Popular Science Monthly/Volume 46/January 1895/Two Lung-Tests
WHEN the would-be reformer Balmaceda ended his blighted career, a correspondent of the Chili Mercurio consoled himself with the thought that "the ruin of his friend, though in some respects an irreparable loss, had at least an experimental value."
A similar reflection may reconcile American naturalists to the fate of Pat Rooney, the champion chimpanzee of the Cincinnati Zoo. It will be a long time before the pet dealers of this continent get hold of another such marvel, but the manner of his death proves at least the impossibility of preventing lung disorders by habitual indoor life.
Pat's prison was in many respects a model of comfort. He had a rocking-chair and a variety of gymnastic contrivances, a bench and a dinner-table of his own, and could rely on a liberal allowance of well-selected food, served daily at convenient hours. The cage was large enough for extensive romps, and was kept as clean as the model nurseries of the Faubourg St.-Martin. Realizing the disadvantage of a man-ape being alone, the directors of the Zoo had even contrived to get him a helpmeet of his own tribe and age. A wire screen prevented the introduction of improper comestibles—a paradise exempted from the temptation of forbidden fruit.
But the benefit of all these arrangements was neutralized by the same mistake that has doomed millions of city children to a consumptive's grave—an excess of precaution in the exclusion of cool air currents. The entire cage had been inclosed with double sheets of plate glass.
Warm air was introduced by means of register pipes, and a small aperture at the top of the cage established communication with the atmosphere of a hall, which in its turn was roofed and artificially warmed, thus enabling the warden to keep the temperature of the ape prison in a state of uniformity far exceeding that of the equatorial regions. In the forests of the lower Congo the thermal extremes range from 105º F. at 2 p. m. to 55º after a midnight rainstorm, a difference of fifty degrees, but an apparent contrast (allowing for the sudden transition from brooding heat to the blasts of a drenching gale) of something more like eighty degrees.
From October to June, Mr. Rooney's glass house was rarely permitted to get colder than 60º, the average being about 75º and the maximum 80º. In midsummer it got, of course, much warmer, but the supposed delicate constitution of the guest from the tropics was made an argument against every proposition to let him share the romps of his fellow fourhanders in the open-air extension of their cages.
At the time of his arrival at the Zoo, Mr. Rooney attested the soundness of his lungs by gymnastic exploits rarely rivaled outside of a Japanese circus, and seemed indeed almost insensible to fatigue. With one hand, or the finger tips of both hands, clutching the horizontal bar, he would whirl around in a circle till the spectators got dizzy in watching his evolutions. He would turn somersaults all around the walls of his gymnasium, rising higher and higher with every turn, till a climax swing landed him on top of his trapeze, where he would squat with his arms akimbo and with tightly compressed lips, suggesting abundant reserve stores of air in his capacious chest.
But at the end of the third year it was noticed that the self-taught acrobat was getting less active, and about the middle of last summer it could no longer be doubted that his health had been affected in some way or other. His appetite became capricious; there were days when he contented himself with nibbling small samples of his dinner, though an hour later he was apt to swallow substances which no self-respecting chimpanzee would have touched with the tip of his tongue. Instead of noticing the improvements of his gymnasium, he would turn over on his side and stare into the darkest corner of his den for hours together, with the perversity of a fourhanded Schopenhauer, resolved to see only the shady side of things. On extra warm days he became restless, running to and fro as if under the impulse of some unsatisfied desire, or watch the playground of his privileged neighbors like an orphan boy viewing the forbidden paradise through the bars of a poorhouse window, and wondering how he came to deserve his sad predicament. At such times the invalid's face, indeed, often assumed an expression more pathetically human than anything ever observed in his fits of mimicry; he looked haggard and contemplative, but his appearance was ascribed to gastric causes—some transient indigestion, brought on by his dietetic aberration. Yes, it must be dyspepsia; it seemed impossible, with such precautions against cold, that he could have contracted a disorder of the lungs. Were not the glass plates fitted tight all around, almost like the walls of an aquarium? And were they not double?
The sick half-brother sighed when sympathetic visitors crowded around his sweatbox; he evidently guessed their benevolent intentions, but some instinct seemed to tell him that his complaint had passed the remediable stage. Once, in October, and again in January, during a spell of bracing, clear cold weather, the flickering flame burned a little brighter, but the progress of emaciation continued, till the deliquium of the knee-muscles and an almost total loss of appetite marked the beginning of the end. One afternoon Pat astonished his keeper by declining his brandy ration. He sniffed it, but turned away with disgust, looking "life-weary," as a local journalist expressed it, "and anxious to leave a world where a monkey without a tail can not hope to get a fair chance anyhow."
The next morning those expressive eyes had faded into a blind stare, and the directors of the Zoo invited a number of medical men to attend the autopsy. All sorts of diagnostic theories had been advanced, but the first slit through the pleura set those controversies at rest. "Gentlemen, I was mistaken," said the officiating surgeon; "I'm no monkey-doctor: Pat Rooney is just a mass of tubercles."
About the same time when the champion chimpanzee made his début at Cincinnati, Ohio, a southern railway official brought a pair of Mangaby apes to Old Fort, North Carolina. They had originally been intended as a present to a resident of Asheville, in the adjoining county, but the addressee having intimated his aversion to zoölogical side shows, the importer sent them to his own home, and after trying in vain to procure a ready-made cage of sufficient size, lodged his guests in a garden house on a hill overlooking the Old Fort railway depot.
Old Fort, near the upper or west end of McDowell County, must have an elevation of at least two thousand feet above sea level. The proximity of Mitchell's Peak has made the little town something of a summer resort, even the dog days being pleasantly cool, but the winter temperature deserves a chillier name, and the railway to Asheville has more than once been blockaded by snowdrift. The locality, in fact, can hardly claim the climate of a perennial pleasure resort, for visitors from the African tropics, but Captain T——'s guests were overjoyed to exchange their narrow traveling cage for a roomy pavilion with lattice walls admitting breezes from every quarter of the compass.
In that playground of all the mountain winds the two fourhanders have romped about year after year, as happy as hawks in a tower roost, and free from the slightest symptoms of lung disorders.
"Does your brother ever wash himself?" a friend of mine asked the junior relative of a Tennessee ragamuffin. "Yes, sometimes on Sunday," said the youngster; and sometimes on holidays the litter at the bottom of the garden house is raked out and a bundle of clean straw flung in. The bill of fare is what the vegetarians call a "compromise diet"—frugal on the whole, but varied with eggs, hash, and occasional remnants of pork and cheese. Fragments of tobacco, and flasks suggesting the surreptitious visits of contrabandists from the highlands, are now and then found in the litter, but mountain air, like Count Tolstoi's atonement of labor, cancels the debt of such peccadillos. The native land of the Mangaby (Cercocebus fuliginosus) is the coast plain of Loango, north of the Congo valley, and immediately south of the equator, and, with the exception of the Gaboon delta, about the most sultry-hot region of the African continent. Captain T——'s pets were not born in captivity, but shipped directly from the mouth of the Congo to New York city, and from New York to western North Carolina, where they arrived in September—i. e., with hardly two months' time for acclimatization to a country with the winter isotherms of northern Maryland. In stress of storms they do now and then avail themselves of their straw bed, but in calm, frosty nights they stick to their top perch with the obstinacy of a pillar saint. The Mangaby is irascible to a grotesque degree, and the mischievous pranks of the local youngsters often throw the two exiles into a delirium of rage that can not fail to aggravate the debilitating effects of confinement and uncongenial food, but an abundant supply of pure (though often ice-cold) air has turned the scales against all these disadvantages, and the two Africans in their lattice prison are today probably the stoutest fourhanders with an equal record of long captivity in any country of the temperate zone.
The calorific ingredients of their diet may help them to survive the long winter nights, but a female baboon which escaped from a private menagerie in the neighborhood of Tallulah Falls, Georgia, in the fall of 1886, accomplished the same feat on a menu of grass seeds and persimmons, and during a heavy snowfall in December starved like a Mexican school teacher rather than run the risk of forfeiting the luxury of freedom by approaching a farmstead. She was recaptured by a hunter, or rather by his hounds, the next month, but fought like a catamount, and her second escape in March caused an excitement as if the chained beast of the Apocalypse had broken loose. Her peculiar tracks in the snow and in the sand of the river shore (where she used to turn over flat stones in quest of crawfish) often put hounds on her trail, but she always contrived to reach "tall timber" ahead of her pursuers, till she met her Waterloo during a sleet-storm in April, when the combined effects of cold and hunger had modified the prehensile vigor of her four hands. The hounds killed her and ripped her shaggy coat into shreds, but dissection revealed the fact that her lungs were almost as sound as those of a mountain buck, the only mementos of her confinement being three small cysts of atrophied tubercles.
In his native haunts the chimpanzee rivals the vigor of any fourhanded or fourfooted creature of his size, and there can be no doubt that the secret of his failure to survive removal to the higher latitudes is not his sensitiveness to cold air currents, nor his impatience of confinement, but his expensiveness, and the consequent reluctance of his jailers to expose him to atmospheric influences which would save his life, but which a deep-rooted delusion still dreads as the harbinger of death.
More than fifty years ago Dr. Friedberger, of Vienna, appears to have suspected that relation of cause and effect in the case of the Duke of Reichstadt, the son of the first Napoleon.
"You have saved so many consumptives," said one of the doctor's colleagues, "don't you see any chance to help poor R.?"
"It's a sadly peculiar case," said the specialist; "as an ordinary mortal he might pull through, but as the son of a demigod I fear he is doomed."
"What! do you think the Government would—"
"Oh, hush! No such idea. But, you see, his life is extra valuable, and for that very reason his ill-advised friends are extra strict in the enforcement of the precautions that will stifle his vital vigor."