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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/827

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PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY OF THE WEST INDIES.

How shall we account for the fact that not one of the large West Indian islands betrays a vestige of an effort in the same direction?

More monkey-inviting forests than those of southern Hayti can not be found in the tropics, but not even a marmoset or squirrel-monkey accepted the invitation. In an infinite series of centuries not one pair of quadrumana availed itself of the chance to cross a sea gap, though at several points the mainland approaches western Cuba within less than two hundred miles—about half the distance that separates southern Asia from Borneo, where fourhanders of all sizes and colors compete for the products of the wilderness, and, according to Sir Philip Maitland, the "native women avoid the coast jungles for fear of meeting Mr. Darwin's grandfather."

The first Spanish explorers of the Antilles were, in fact, so amazed at the apparently complete absence of quadrupeds that their only explanation was a conjecture that the beasts of the forest must have been exterminated by order of some native potentate, perhaps the great Kubla Khan, whose possessions they supposed to extend eastward from Lake Aral to the Atlantic. The chronicle of Diego Columbus says positively that San Domingo and San Juan Bautista (Porto Rico) were void of mammals, but afterward modifies that statement by mentioning a species of rodent, the hutia, or bush rat, that annoyed the colonists of Fort Isabel, and caused them to make an appropriation for importing a cargo of cats.

Bush rats and moles were, up to the end of the sixteenth century, the only known indigenous quadrupeds of the entire West Indian archipelago, for the "Carib dogs," which Valverde saw in Jamaica, were believed to have been brought from the mainland by a horde of man-hunting savages.

But natural history has kept step with the advance of other sciences, and the list of undoubtedly aboriginal mammals on the four main islands of the Antilles is now known to comprise more than twenty species. That at least fifteen of them escaped the attention of the Spanish Creoles is as strange as the fact that the Castilian cattle barons of Upper California did not suspect the existence of precious metals, though nearly the whole bonanza region of the San Joaquin Valley had been settled before the beginning of the seventeenth century. But the conquerors of the Philippines even overlooked a variety of elephants that roams the coast jungles of Mindanao.

Eight species of those West Indian incognito mammals, it is true, are creatures of a kind which the Spanish zoölogists of Valverde's time would probably have classed with birds—bats, namely, including the curious Vespertilio molossus, or mastiff bat, and several varieties of the owl-faced Chilonycteris, that takes wing in the gloom preceding a thunderstorm, as well as in the morning and evening twi-