Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/830

This page has been validated.

these renegades into the penetralia of their strongholds. Sergeant Esterman, who shared the potluck of a Cuban insurgent camp in the capacity of a gunsmith, estimates the wild-dog population of the province of Santiago alone at half a million, and predicts that in years to come their raids will almost preclude the possibility of profitable cattle-breeding in eastern Cuba.

Still, the perro pelon, or "tramp dog," as the Creoles call the wolfish cur, is perhaps a lesser evil, where its activity has tended to check the over-increase of another assisted immigrant. Three hundred years ago West Indian sportsmen began to import several breeds of Spanish rabbits, and with results not always foreseen by the agricultural neighbors of the experimenters. Rabbit meat, at first a luxury, soon became an incumbrance of the provision markets, and finally unsalable at any price. Every family with a dog or a trap-setting boy could have rabbit stew for dinner six times a week, and load their peddlers with bundles of rabbit skins.

The burrowing coneys threatened to undermine the agricultural basis of support, when it was learned that the planters of the Fort Isabel district (Hayti) had checked the evil by forcing their dogs to live on raw coney meat. The inexpensiveness of the expedient recommended its general adoption, and the rapidly multiplying quadrupeds soon found that "there were others." The Spanish hounds, too, could astonish the census reporter where their progeny was permitted to survive, and truck farmers ceased to complain.

In stress of circumstances the persecuted rodents then took refuge in the highlands, where they can still be seen scampering about the grassy dells in all directions, and the curs of the coast plain turned their attention to hutia venison and the eggs of the chaparral pheasant and other gallinaceous birds. On the seacoast they also have learned to catch turtles and subdivide them, regardless of antivivisection laws. How they can get a business opening through the armor of the larger varieties seems a puzzle, but the canis rutilus of the Sunda Islands overcomes even the dog-resisting ability of the giant tortoise, and in Sumatra the bleaching skeletons of the victims have often been mistaken for the mementos of a savage battle.

Near Bocanso in southeastern Cuba the woods are alive with capuchin monkeys, that seem to have escaped from the wreck of some South American trading vessel and found the climate so congenial that they proceeded to make themselves at home, like the ring-tailed colonists of Fort Sable, in the Florida Everglades. The food supply may not be quite as abundant as in the equatorial birthland of their species, but that disadvantage is probably more than offset by the absence of tree-climbing carnivora.

Millions of runaway hogs roam the coast swamps of all the larger