Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/496

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

Reference has already been made to the paucity of existing species of elephants, only two distinct species being included in the lists of modern naturalists. These are the African elephant (Loxodon [or Elephas] Africanus) and the Indian elephant (Elephas Indicus). But the elephantine race is not without its variations and digressions from the ordinary type. We discover that among the elephants of each species "varieties" are by no means uncommon. These varieties appear as the progeny of ordinary animals. Thus the Sumatran elephant and that of Ceylon are regarded as constituting a distinct species, one authority (Schlegel), indeed, affixing to it the distinctive appellation of Elephas Sumatrensis. The balance of zoölogical opinion, however, is in favor of the Ceylon form being simply a "variety" of the Indian species; in other words, the differences between these two forms are not accounted of sufficient merit to elevate the former to the rank of a distinct animal unit. The famous "white elephants," whose existence has given origin to the proverbial expression concerning the disadvantage of unwieldy possessions, have a veritable existence. In Siam, as is well known, these animals are regarded with the utmost reverence, and are held in sacred estimation and kept in royal state by sovereign command. They are to be regarded, however, merely as an albino or colorless "variety" of the Indian species. Their production depends, like that of albinos or white varieties of birds or other animals, on some undetermined conditions affecting development. We occasionally find white varieties of birds—even including that paradoxical anomaly, a white blackbird—and albino cats are as familiar objects as are albino rabbits and white mice. Darwin remarks on the fact that albinism is very susceptible of transmission to offspring, and it is so even in the human race. It is not known whether the white elephants exhibit any special peculiarity of structure or life; but the interesting correlation has been observed that almost all white cats which possess blue eyes are deaf. The nature and origin of this association of characters are unknown, but the occurrence of such apparently unconnected states serves to remind us that great as yet are the mysteries which environ the becoming of the living worlds.

The characters of the Indian and African elephants, respectively, are by no means difficult to bear in mind. The Indian elephant (Fig. 1, 2) has a concave or hollow forehead, and the ears are of relatively moderate size. The eye is exceptionally small, while there are four nails or hoofs on the hind-feet, the number of toes on each foot being five in all elephants. The color of the Indian species is, moreover, a pale brown, and is of a lighter hue than that of the African species; and, while the former has "tusks" in the males alone, the latter possesses tusks in both sexes. The African elephant (Fig. 1, 1) has a rounded skull and a convex forehead, and the ears are of very large size. It possesses only three nails on the hind-feet, and four hoofs on