The Zoologist/4th series, vol 2 (1898)/Issue 685/Notices of New Books
NOTICES OF NEW BOOKS.
Now that so much attention is focussed on Southern Africa, it is quite refreshing to find that the Hominidæ are not the only mammals studied in the area, and that, besides the introduced Boer farmer, there is also the Angora Goat. We are absolutely dead weary of the political questions connected with the Boer, and rejoice to study the less exciting but more scientific problem of his Goat. And here let us at once clear the ground by a definition; by Boer we do not necessarily mean an inhabitant of the Transvaal, but the farmers who trace their descent back to the early settlers, are of principally Dutch and French origin, who use the "Taal" dialect, so largely Dutch in its construction, and are found all over South Africa, under the British flag as well as beneath those of the two Republics.
The first part of the volume is devoted to the history and derivation of the various breeds of domestic Goats, and our author agrees with the now generally accepted opinion that they are all principally derived from the Persian Wild Goat (Capra ægagrus), and that the blood element of the Wild Goat of Thibet (Capra falconeri) in the Angora breed must be small indeed, as "the outward twist of the horns, so pronounced in Capri falconeri, is unknown in the Angora (whose horns have the twist inwards) or any other domestic variety."
One reason for the great success with which the Angora breed flourishes in South Africa is pointed out by Mr. Schreiner in the fact that "our veld and climate are almost identical with those of the province of Angora." And this remark is true for the Colony, for practically "the Transvaal has no Goats and the Free State not a very large number." In 1893, the Cape had 2,811,206 Angora Goats, and 2,819,749 Common Goats. The effects of crossing is favourable to the fecundity of the Angora, the modern breed having often two kids at a birth, the Kurd Goat having seldom less than two; while at the Cape, Angoras descended from a cross with the Boer Goat, generally have twins, often triplets, and sometimes four young at a birth. But as Angoras in the Colony "are becoming purer and more what they should be, the tendency of ewes to have more than one (even now not common in the best stud flocks) becomes less and less."
The first importation of Angoras into the Cape Colony (or South Africa) was made in 1838 by Colonel Henderson, formerly of Bombay); and of the fourteen Goats that landed, only two, a ewe and her ram kid, may be noticed, for the other twelve rams had been rendered impotent before leaving Turkey. As remarked by our author:—"The day on which the little fellow leapt ashore, beside his dam, fifty-nine years ago, at Table Bay, is a memorable date in the history of South African pastoral products." It is indeed! for South Africa is economically a "poor man's country"—"black man's country"—the usual appellation; take away its mining capacity and it is again within measurable distance of a pastoral condition. The introduction of the Angora Goat is therefore an event of more real significance to many in S. Africa than an elargement of boundaries or a diplomatic triumph. The natives from the time they were first met possessed a practically indigenous Goat, and the " Boer Goat of to-day strikes one as an animal peculiarly South African, as it browses on the arid kopjes of the Great Karoo." This hardy animal, with its coat "short, smooth, and coarse, of almost any colour or combination of colours, frequently being dappled," which can live and thrive where other stock would die, with its pungent and strong flesh naturally survives, and according to the 1891 census numbered then no fewer than 3,444,019, or about 250,000 in excess of the number of Angoras. They can be trained—the Kapaters—as "voerbokken," leaders to flocks of sheep and understanding certain words of command. " It is an odd spectacle to see a couple of immense gaily-coloured Kapaters marching as directed to the front of a flock, and sedately—one almost imagines proudly—leading the way into a kraal or through a gate with the sheep trooping closely after them." These Boer Goats have supplied the mothers of nearly all the Cape Angoras.
The volume is well illustrated, and is full of statistics as to a very staple industry of South Africa, and is of interest alike to the zoologist, farmer, and political economist. The paper on the Ostrich appeared in these pages last year.
This small volume forms one of "Longmans' Practical Elementary Science Series," and is intended as a guide to the elementary zoology required by the Science and Art Department. It might with advantage be used as a school course of zoological teaching, for its small compass would not make it too great a competitor with other studies, and its contents could be mastered by the teacher, which is after all the desideratum of an elementary book of science, if it is eventually to reach the pupil.
Mr. Beddard commences with the Amœba, follows on with the Hydra, and then discusses the Earthworm, on which he is so well known as an authority; to which succeeds the Crayfish, ever memorable from the classic of Huxley; the Cockroach, another type recently investigated by Miall and Denny; and successively treats of Insects and their metamorphoses, the Pond Mussel (Anodonta cygnæa), the Snail, the Frog, and thence to Vertebrates. We are not surprised to read that "the classification of the animal world adopted in this book will be found to differ from many schemes of classification in vogue," and most students will agree with the author that this may be "because of the uncertainty of our knowledge, and the consequent variability of opinions."
An elementary biological fact, not too often emphasised in elementary works, is clearly and tersely stated by Mr. Beddard with reference to the reputed distinction between animals and plants. "It is not possible to draw a clear line between plants and animals." How fundamental this appreciation is to any intelligent conception of organic evolution it is unnecessary to remark; to have it clearly stated in a primer is no small service. There are some apparent phenomena which, even now, ordinarily educated people only disbelieve because they are told to do so, such as the seeming movement of the sun; and such observers will feel little doubt of the essential life differences between an Ox and an Oak; but when we approach what may be called the introduction to organic life, we may well hold with the author, "that there is no absolute criterion for determining whether a given unicellular or few-celled organism is a plant or an animal."
Such axioms really lie at the base of all biological philosophy, and to have them taught early is to have them taught well.
This is the latest addition to our local lists of British birds; it is confined to "Ackworth and the neighbourhood around for a distance of from three to four miles"; the soil is for the most part loam or clay, and in some places is marl; it is about fifty miles from the sea-coast at its nearest point; the river Went—a small stream tributary to the river Don—runs through the centre of the district, which also includes the lake at Nostell and Hemsworth Dam; while against these natural beauties we read that "half-a-dozen collieries are worked within, or close to, the district, towards its northerly and westerly confines."
The total number of species enumerated is 149, of which 54 are permanent residents, 26 regular summer residents, 9 regular winter residents, and 60 visitors. We are glad to find "that, in spite of the arts and designs of the gamekeeper, the Magpie is common in all wooded parts." In connection with this bird an observation by a local farmer is recorded, of five Magpies surrounding a Fox who was devouring a Rabbit, and on his being disturbed picked up the remainders. A "Rooks' parliament," as witnessed by Dr. George Wood and the first Lord St. Oswald, is an example of what has been loosely called the romance of natural history. "A multitude of Rooks were formed up in a large ring, in a field, round a solitary, dejected-looking member of their species, and were making a great noise and flapping of wings, the only silent and quiet bird being the miserable individual in the centre of the ring. All at once there was perfect quietude and stillness, which lasted a minute or two, when suddenly the noise was resumed with unabated vigour, and the birds forming the ring closed in upon the unhappy one and instantly despatched it, literally pulling it to pieces, amidst a general tumult. Dr. Wood was unable to say whether the victim, upon which judgment was summarily dealt, had been previously injured, or was otherwise imperfect." With a diseased pity for evil-doers who incur severe penalties, our soul goes out to that Rook.
There are many other interesting observations and facts in avian life to be found in this small volume. A Cuckoo was found a prisoner in a Redbreast's nest at Ackworth Court, the nest being so encompassed by ivy-growth as to make it necessary to cut away the stems in order to liberate the mighty fledgling. The importance of a Heron to a Trout-stream is amply verified by the statement that "out of the gullet of a Heron, shot at Ackworth in 1890, fell three Trout, each of about half a pound in weight."
This list appears to have been made with care, and is much more than a mere inventory.
Although not announced on the title-page, this 'Guide' has been edited and largely written by Mr. G.W. Murdoch, who conducts the natural history columns of the 'Yorkshire Weekly Post.' Besides its natural beauty, Lakeland will ever remain classic with the name of Wordsworth, while De Quincey first drew attention to the evidences of a prolonged Norse or, as he expressed it, Danish occupation of the district. The poet Gray is generally credited with having "discovered" the Lake District, which he visited in 1769, and described in his 'Tour in the Lakes;' but, as Mr. Murdoch observes in his introduction, "it was neither industrial progress nor Gray the poet that 'opened up' the Lake District, but Wordsworth, Southey, the Coleridges (father and son), Wilson ('Christopher North'), De Quincey, and afterwards Mrs. Hemans, Harriet Martineau, Dr. Arnold (of Rugby), James Spedding, and (in many ways one of the most charming of all that brilliant intellectual galaxy) the gifted Dorothy Wordsworth."
We are not, however, principally concerned with literature—in its restricted meaning—in these pages, nor with Border raids and plunderings, but rather with the "natural history of the Lake District" which forms a new feature of this 'Guide.' This contains a reference to most publications on the subject, and it is notworthy to read of John Gough, the blind naturalist of Kendal, born in 1757, who "was the first (blind though he was) to throw much true light on the bird-life of his native county." The Mammals, Birds, Reptilia, Amphibia, and Freshwater Fishes (under Angling), are briefly alluded to, and we can recommend this inexpensive 'Guide' to all lovers of nature who contemplate visiting this beautiful region.