The Zoologist/4th series, vol 6 (1902)/Issue 736/Notes from some Zoological Gardens of Western Europe
No. 736.— October, 1902.
NOTES FROM SOME ZOOLOGICAL GARDENS OF
By Graham Renshaw, M.B.
The nineteenth century may be regretfully considered, from a zoological standpoint, as an era of extermination, a host of fine species having been recklessly blotted out by man since the year 1800. To instance only a few of these vanished forms, one may mention the Black Emu, the Reunion Starling, the Philip Island Parrot, the Labrador Duck, and the Great Auk. The disappearance of these species alone is a great loss to zoology; yet one might easily multiply examples indicating only too plainly the inexcusable havoc which has been caused amongst the lower animals during the last hundred years.
Brighter prospects, however, seem to be dawning with the twentieth century. The more active measures taken to enforce the due protection of the African great game animals during the last decade appear already to have achieved considerable success; whilst in other parts of the world the efforts of enlightened Governments have been able to arrest the diminution of threatened species, if one may rely upon the latest information concerning the European Bison, the American Bison, and the Scandinavian Elk. Moreover, the gun appears to be gradually being abandoned in favour of field-glass and camera, the observation of animals in their own haunts being now more popular than ever; whilst the recent publication of various excellent works illustrated with photographs of living creatures under natural conditions will tend greatly to increase the number of those who take greater pleasure in watching the habits of living mammal and bird, reptile and fish, than in examining mere museum specimens of the same animals.
The various splendid zoological gardens of Europe have for many years contained a considerable amount of material for study; yet such material seems after all to have hardly received the attention that it has deserved. These institutions should not be regarded merely as resorts for crowds of curious sightseers, but rather as extensive and very valuable biological laboratories where the fascinating science of zoology may be studied by means of note-book and camera rather than by the academic aid of microscope and scalpel. If fed on suitable food, and allotted abundant room for exercise, captive animals will afford much instruction to any naturalist who will study them systematically; and, although results may be somewhat vitiated by the absence of the proper surroundings of the species under observation, at any rate this method is extremely convenient for the naturalist himself, especially if he have no leisure for foreign travel. It is hoped that the following notes I have made on various inmates of continental menageries during the last four years will not only be interesting, but also contain much that is new. The animals now to be considered are as follows:—
Canis jubatus (Maned Wolf).—An example of this very rare beast has been living for several years in the Amsterdam Zoological Gardens, its long ears and spidery legs constituting it one of the most striking exhibits in the menagerie. In walking the Maned Wolf carries its head almost on a level with its shoulders, and much lower than would have been supposed from an examination of museum specimens, which are probably mounted by taxidermists unfamiliar with the appearance of the living animal. The gait of the Maned Wolf is not at all clumsy, but quite the reverse, in spite of the long legs, the animal stalking about its cage like a shadow, and moving with considerable gracefulness; on account, however, of the great elongation of the fore leg below the knee the front part of the animal seems to be supported on stilts. When standing still the Maned Wolf draws its head well up, and then presents a very striking appearance.
Taurotragus oryx (Eland).—Ever since Lord Derby obtained his specimens of this fine Antelope for the Knowsley menagerie in 1842, Eland have been more or less familar even to untravelled people, and most zoological gardens have from time to time possessed a pair or more of them. The Striped or Livingstone's Eland is still to be obtained, but the rapidly increasing rarity of the old unstriped form of the Cape lends a melancholy interest to the contemplation of the few examples now in captivity. I remember spending some time, in the late summer of 1900, in studying the herd of Unstriped Eland then still surviving at the Jardin d'Acclimatation in Paris. It was not encouraging as regards the perpetuation of the race to observe that in the herd of five there were three animals whose bent or otherwise malformed horns indicated but too surely the need for the fresh blood so difficult to obtain. Unstriped Eland tend to darken with age, and bulls may become quite black along the spine. Young bulls sometimes grow horns having an antero-posterior curvature, plainly evident when seen from the side, the concavity of the curve being anterior. One young adult I saw recently in a continental collection had the horns somewhat unequal, and curiously bent outwards at the tips, as if indicating an approach to the open spiral horns of the Kudu, or the still more open spiral of the Addax.
Wild Eland are stated to smear their foreheads with their own urine. I recollect observing a fine bull of this species busily rubbing his frontal mat of hair upon a moist place in the paddock where he was confined, and energetically raking up the mud with his horns. Scarcely had he desisted than his offspring—a youngster only a few weeks old—came up, and imitated his example. Perhaps both were instinctively following some transmitted ancestral impulse, but, as both had been born in Europe, the reason for the act was not very obvious.
Addax nasomaculatus (Addax). (Plate II.)—This interesting Antelope is thickly clothed in winter on neck, shoulders, and the body as far as the hind quarters with a dense covering of coarse dun-coloured hair, which falls out in summer, leaving the animal smooth-coated. Specimens in zoological gardens have this change of coat well marked in the month of May. As far as I have been able to observe, the hair falls out in irregular patches, commencing on each side of the spine, and spreading downwards from several centres, the greyish hue of the subjacent coat gradually appearing through the thinning pélisse. The heavy tuft of dark-brown hair covering the forehead is unaltered at all seasons, and traces of coarse hair likewise persist on the throat, chest, and sides. One of these Antelopes, in August, 1900, was of a general greyish white colour; frontal tuft brown, and vertex of head behind horns lighter brown; the throat-mane was also brown, and very scanty. Thus the coat of the animal in summer differs very markedly from its winter covering.
Hippotragus equinus (Roan Antelope).—Occasionally one has the opportunity of observing, as regards menagerie specimens, various occurrences which are frequently recorded of the animal in a wild state. Thus sportsmen have frequently pointed out that even large Antelopes like the Roan may, in spite of their size, be quite unrecognisable when standing in dense bush; and it has been most interesting to observe some confirmation of this as regards the Senegambian Roan Antelope, the most conspicuously marked of all the protean variations of H. equinus. One would reasonably suppose that an Antelope as large as a Horse, with black and white face, black legs, and chestnut body, would be seen easily enough under almost any conditions; yet a fine cow of this species at Antwerp, when standing in her paddock under some overhanging trees, was admirably concealed by her very coloration. The black of the face and legs harmonised completely with the shadows cast by the branches overhead, whilst the bright sunlight streaming through the interstices of the foliage merely revealed the chestnut-coloured body as a large surface of uniform colouring. Had this Antelope been standing amidst natural surroundings she would surely have escaped observation altogether.
Connochaetes taurinus (Brindled Gnu).—It may not be generally known that these extraordinary looking Antelopes—half Buffalo, half Pony, as it were—often bear vestiges of their Hartebeest ancestry in the shape of more or less distinct annuliations on the horns near the base, and most distinct on the posterior aspect. In a pair I recently examined the cow had five distinct rings on each horn, and very similar markings were recognisable on the bull. One character of these animals appears to have been hitherto overlooked in descriptions of their external appearance—the mane hangs over to the right side of the neck, whereas in several other Antelopes, such as the Beisa (Oryx beisa), this appendage inclines to the left. Brindled Gnu are fond of rubbing themselves against posts, and also delight in rolling in any moisture that may be found in their paddock. They are extremely inquisitive, and will frequently come up to investigate an object with determined and not very friendly curiosity. If two are kept together they will fight in a more or less determined manner, dropping on their knees to crash their heavily armed heads together. Females with young are very alert and suspicious; one Gnu, which I had permission to photograph, becoming somewhat alarmed at my proceedings (though at a distance of fully one hundred yards), gave the alarm by a peculiar braying snort. Immediately on hearing this the calf got up, and stood staring hard in the direction of the supposed danger.
Bubalis buselaphus (Bubaline Hartebeest).—The Bubaline Hartebeest does well in captivity, and under suitable conditions will breed as readily as Eland or Burchell Zebra. In 1900 there was quite a large herd at the Jardin des Plantes, Paris, numbering eight individuals, of which at least three had been born in the menagerie. The young were fawn-coloured like the parents, and had small horns in the form of short backwardly directed divergent spikes. The colour of the Bubaline Hartebeest appears well adapted to protect it in its desert home. I found that the outlines of a menagerie specimen standing on a sanded floor and against the woodwork of its enclosure began to be indistinct at a distance of twenty-four yards.
Giraffa camelopardalis (Northern Giraffe).—The history of the Giraffes brought to London in 1836 is probably familiar to many; most readers of 'The Zoologist' will recollect that the four animals then imported became the founders of a long line of English-bred animals, which only terminated on the death of the last of them in 1894. One of the first of this series is figured in Sir Cornwallis Harris's work on the game of South Africa, so that those of us who remember the last survivors of this large family will realise that the London Giraffes constituted a link between the present day and the reign of William IV., since Harris set out on the shooting tour which eventually furnished material for his book as long ago as 1836. It may not perhaps be generally known that the Northern Giraffe has repeatedly bred in the Antwerp Zoological Gardens, births having occurred in 1871, 1873, 1875, 1876, and 1878. The last survivor of this fine series is still living, and carries her twenty-three years with the elasticity of youth. The young pair of Giraffes recently sent to Antwerp from the Soudan are much darker in coat than this European-bred female. The third horn of the eighteen-month-old male is about one inch long; the horns of the young female bear well-developed tufts of drooping hair not seen in either of the other two animals.
Equus zebra (Mountain Zebra).—The voice of this animal is a curious whistling metallic neigh. Young foals of this species are much rougher in coat than their parents, and the stripes are brownish rather than black; a Mountain Zebra foal in the Jardin des Plantes collection, at about ten months old, was still quite rough in coat. The stripes on the neck, mane, and legs were black, and those on the body were nearly all brown. The mother was very suspicious of all visitors, and continually endeavoured to interpose herself between her young one and any spectators, although the foal was already nearly as big as herself.
E. burchelli (Burchell's Zebra).—Most naturalists will be aware that the original type of this animal as described by Burchell had the legs unstriped, or at most with but few markings. The practical extermination of this form, however, has unfortunately now been compassed, so that almost all the Zebras of this species now in zoological gardens have the legs regularly banded, often right down to the hoofs. Occasionally, however, one meets with the rarer form, of which I have examined a specimen. As was seen from the rough coat, this animal was quite young. A remarkable point was that the animal stated to be its mother had the legs regularly striped. An equine hybrid (Asiatic Wild Ass, ♂ × Burchell Zebra, ♀) now living in the Jardin des Plantes is rufous grey in colour, having the body and legs ornamented with long thin stripes, but the hind quarters boldly marked with broad dark bands like its mother.
Cervus davidianus (Père David's Deer).—Much interest attaches to this very rare animal, since probably it is now utterly exterminated in the wild state, those now in captivity—a scanty band indeed—being all that is left of the species. I recollect seeing several in the Jardin d'Acclimatation some years ago, but they are all gone now. An old male still survives in the Jardin des Plantes—a faded-looking specimen, and not at all attractive, save for his great rarity. When I saw him a few weeks ago he was standing still, with muzzle on ground, sleepy and lethargic, as if the fate of his race was beginning to personally oppress him. The note of this Deer is a disagreeable bray; in fact, Cervus davidianus cannot be considered a nice animal at all.
Cynomys ludovicianus (Prairie Dog).—These little rodents flourish abundantly in captivity if allowed plenty of room, frisking about in broad daylight like so many Ground Squirrels, and continually popping in and out of their burrows. Such individuals as I have been able to observe delved with tremendous energy and enthusiastic perseverance, the earth being rapidly thrown out between the straddled-out hind legs. As far as one could judge, the shape of the mounds thus thrown up by these Prairie Dogs was flatter and somewhat more elongated than that of the typical watch-tower structure usually figured in works of natural history. The Prairie Dog "town" in the Jardin d'Acclimatation consists of a number of somewhat widely separated burrows, and none of the mounds are very large; in fact, at a short distance they are hardly distinguishable from the surrounding earth. Prairie Dogs will breed readily in captivity, and make interesting pets.
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