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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/829

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PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY OF THE WEST INDIES.

rodent, though, it is barely possible that some of them may have stolen a ride on Spanish trading vessels from Central America.

Water-moles burrow in the banks of several Cuban rivers, and two genera of aquatic mammals have solved the problem of survival: the bayou porpoise and the manatee, both known to the Creoles of the early colonial era, and vaguely even to the first discoverers, since Columbus himself alludes to a "sort of mermaids (sirenas) that half rose from the water and scanned the boat's crew with curious eyes."

Naturally the manatee is, indeed, by no means a timid creature, but bitter experience has changed its habits since the time when the down-town sportsmen of Santiago used to start in sailboats for the outer estuary and return before night with a week's supply of manatee meat. The best remaining hunting grounds are the reed shallows of Samana Bay (San Domingo) and the deltas of the Hayti swamp rivers. Old specimens are generally as wary as the Prybilof fur seal that dive out of sight at the first glimpse of a sail; still, their slit-eyed youngsters are taken alive often enough, to be kept as public pets in many town ponds, where they learn to come to a whistle and waddle ashore for a handful of cabbage leaves.

Fish otters have been caught in the lagoons of Puerto Principe (central Cuba) and near Cape Tiburon, on the south coast of San Domingo, the traveler Gerstaecker saw a kind of "bushy-tailed dormouse, too small to be called a squirrel."

But the last four hundred years have enlarged the list of indigenous mammals in more than one sense, and the Chevalier de Saint-Méry should not have been criticised for describing the bush dog of Hayti as a "canis Hispaniolanus." Imported dogs enacted a declaration of independence several centuries before the revolt of the Haytian slaves, and their descendants have become as thoroughly West Indian as the Franks have become French. A continued process of elimination has made the survivors climate-proof and self-supporting, and above all they have ceased to vary; Nature has accepted their modified type as wholly adapted to the exigencies of their present habitat. And if it is true that all runaway animals revert in some degree to the characteristics of their primeval relatives, the ancestor of the domestic dog would appear to have been a bush-tailed, brindle-skinned, and black-muzzled brute, intermittently gregarious, and combining the burrowing propensity of the fox with the co-operative hunting penchant of the wolf.

Fourteen years of bushwhacker warfare have almost wholly exterminated the half-wild cattle of the Cuban sierras, but the bush dog has come to stay. The yelping of its whelps can be heard in thousands of jungle woods and mountain ravines, both of Cuba and Hayti, and no variety of thoroughbreds will venture to follow