Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/508

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
494
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
spatched with a sword, which, after being secured upon the end of a rifle, was plunged into his neck. The quantity of blood that flowed was very considerable, and flooded the den to a great depth. This was the same elephant who was the accidental cause of its keeper's death, whose ribs it crushed four months back while in the act of turning round in its den.

After reading this account, we may well feel tempted to indorse the opinion of a correspondent of "Land and Water," who remarks that the like of it "can never occur again, thank God, in England!"

The history of the elephants would be manifestly imperfect, even when detailed in the briefest manner, without a reference to their present distribution and to the biography of the race in the past. As in the case of many other groups of animals and plants, we can only fully appreciate the modern relations of the elephants when some knowledge of their development in the geological ages has been obtained. In the eyes of the modern naturalist, the present of any living being is not merely bound up in its past development, but the existing conditions of any race become explicable in many cases only when the former range of the group in time has been ascertained. This holds especially true of the elephants; for the existing species represent the remnants of a once larger and far more extensive distribution of proboscidian life. Hence, it behooves us to make the acquaintance, firstly, of their present distribution, and secondly of their distribution and development in past ages, if we are to understand with any degree of completeness and mental satisfaction the relations of the elephantine races.

The distribution of the elephant on the earth as it now exists may be disposed of in a very few words. The Indian species occurs in Asia, from the Himalayas to Ceylon, while its range extends eastward to the Chinese borders, and southward to Sumatra and Borneo as well. The African species possesses as localized a habitat. It was Swift who, remarking on the customs of geographers in his day, said:

"So geographers in Afric maps

With savage pictures fill their gaps,
And o'er unhabitable downs

Place elephants for want of towns."

The witty dean's lines show at least that the geographers did not mistake the wide distribution of the giant animal in the Ethiopian continent. For, south of the Sahara—the territory north of which is zoologically' a part of Europe the African elephant is everywhere found, forming one of the most characteristic features at once of the African landscape and of the Ethiopian fauna, and dividing the sovereignty of the land with the lion himself.

Turning now to the past history of the elephant race, one may primarily note the more prominent members of the group which rank among the curiosities of the geologist. First in order comes the extinct mammoth—the Elephas primigenius (Fig. 3) of the naturalist.