Page images
PDF

are covered, when the birds are not incubating, a foot or more deep in the sand, and in consequence are safe from injury—but they are supernumerary eggs, which the mothers lay from time to time during the period of incubation, and are intended as food for the young when hatched; they lie carelessly about, to all appearance forsaken, and are doubtless the 'eggs which a foot may crush,' referred to in the Biblical account It is a mistake to suppose that ostriches do not incubate. It is true that in the tropics the parent birds leave the sun to do the work of incubation for a great part of the day, but during the night the birds always protect and sit upon their eggs. The ostriches, with which the Jews would have been familiar, were natives of Egypt, Syria, and North Africa, nor is it likely they were acquainted with tropical birds.

Is the ostrich really without understanding? It would be difficult to reconcile the Biblical statement, were it received as an infallible enunciation, with the indisputable truth patent to every student of nature that all that God has made is 'very good.' The ostrich is remarkably cunning: 'So wary is this bird,' says Mr. Tristram, who has paid particular attention to its habits, 'and so open are the vast plains over which it roams, that no ambuscades or artifices can be employed, and the vulgar resource of dogged perseverance is the only mode of pursuit.' * But it is enough to know that the Orientals attributed foolishness to the ostrich; indeed, they have a proverb, 'stupid as an ostrich,' and Bochart has given us five different points on which this bird is supposed to deserve its character:—-{I) Because it will swallow stones, iron, &c. &c.; (2) Because, when it is hunted, it thrusts its head into a bush, and imagines the hunters do not see it,— an old conceit, properly ridiculed by Diodorus Siculus; (3) Because it allows itself to be captured in the manner described by Strabo; (4) Because it neglects its eggs; (5) Because it has a large head and few brains.f

We aje well aware of what Jackson and Shaw have recorded with regard to the want of crropyi] in the ostrich. But that the Arabs occasionally find forsaken eggs and ' little ones no bigger than well-grown pullets, half-starved, straggling and moaning about like so many distressed orphans for their mother,' no more proves the want of natural affection in this bird, than occasional forsaken nests prove the same thing with regard to almost every species of wild bird, for all of them on disturbance are apt to forsake their eggs or young ones. A modern traveller in South

* 'The Great Sahara,' p. 117.

t 'Dictionary of the Bible,' art. Ottrieh.

West West Africa, Mr. C. J. Andersson, bears the following testimony to the parental care displayed by the ostrich :—' When on the road between the bay and Scheppmansdorf we discovered a male and female ostrich, with a brood of young ones about the size of ordinary barn-door fowls. . . . Accordingly we dismounted and gave chase; and the moment the parent birds became aware of our intention they set off at full speed, the female leading the way, the young following in her wake, and the cock, though at some little distance, bringing up the rear of the family party. It was very touching to observe the anxiety tlve old birds evinced for the safety of their young. Finding that we were quickly gaining upon them, the male at once slackened his pace and diverged somewhat from his course; but seeing that we were not to be diverted from our purpose (the travellers wished to procure some craniums of the young birds for Professor Owen), he again increased his speed, and with wings drooping so as almost to touch the ground, he hovered round us, now in wide circles, and then decreasing the circumference till he came almost within pistolshot, when he threw himself abruptly on the ground, and struggled desperately to regain his legs, as it appeared, like a bird that has been badly wounded. Having previously fired at him, I really thought he was disabled, and made quickly towards him; but this was only a ruse on his part, for on my nearer approach he slowly arose and began to run in an opposite direction to that of the female, who by this time was considerably ahead of her charge.' After an hour's chase the travellers secured nine young ones out of the brood, which consisted of about double that number.

With regard to the power of ruminating which is ascribed to the coney and the hare, it is clear that no real power of the kind belongs to those animals. The coney, the shaphan of the Hebrew Bible, is, we conceive, the Syrian hyrax (Hi/rax Syriacus), a small animal about the size of a rabbit, which in some of its habits it much resembles. There are three or four specimens of the Cape hyrax (H. capensis) at present in the collection of animals in the Regent's Park Zoological Gardens. The Syrian species is apparently becoming very scarce; its locality is confined to the sterile and rocky hills of the Jordan and Dead Sea valleys. Bruce kept a tame hyrax in confinement, and from a peculiar twitching motion of the animal's mouth was led into the error of supposing it chewed the cud.* The same

peculiar

* Sir G. Wilkinson (' Ancient Egypt,' vol. i. p. 228: London, 1854), however, speaking of the hyrax, says, ' It was probably the mphan of the Bible, as Bruce has remarked, and that enterprising traveller is perfectly correct in placing it

among

peculiar twitching many must have observed in the case of hares and rabbits; hence the poet Cowper, speaking of one of his tame hares, says ' it chewed the cud till evening.' Groups of this active little hyrax may be seen to congregate amongst the rocks, in the cavities of which they hide themselves when alarmed. 'The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats; so are the stony rocks for the conies.' Solomon mentions the hyrax as one of the four things upon earth which, though little, 'are exceedingly wise.' The wisdom here ascribed to it probably alludes to its shyness and wariness, which render it difficult to approach; though it may have more particular reference to the cunning displayed by old males, which, according to some observers, keep watch as sentries in the vicinity of their holes, and utter a sound like a whistle to apprise their companions when danger threatens.

Strange as it may appear, the little hyrax, although in some respects it resembles the Rodentia, has its true affinities with the rhinoceros; its molar teeth differ only in size from those of that great Pachyderm. The Arabs of Mount Sinai eat the flesh of the hyrax and esteem it a delicacy; it is said to resemble the flavour of a rabbit. It was forbidden as food by the Mosaic law, which allowed only of quadrupeds such of the Ruminantia as fully divided the hoof.* The hare, therefore, of which two species, Lepus Syriacus and L. Sinaticus, are mentioned by Ehrenberg and Hemprich as occurring, the former in the Lebanon, the latter in the peninsula of Sinai, was, together with the shdphaiv, excluded from the list of 'clean beasts.' The following is Russell's description of hare-hunting in Syria:—

'At present the gentlomen course with native greyhounds, assisted by a hawk of the same kind with that employed for antelopes. The company, consisting of twenty or thirty horsemen, servants included, draw up in a line at the distance of six or eight feet. Near each end of the line which is termed the Barnbar, two brace of greyhounds are led by footmen and advanced a little before the centre, the falconer

among ruminating animals.' Being aware that Prof. Owen had observed a quasiruminution in some of the kangaroos, we wrote to that eminent naturalist to inquire whether the same thing had ever been noticed in any individual of the Hyracida, and received the following reply :—' The stomach of the hyrax is a simple bag, as in the horse and rhinoceros, with a partial lining of cuticle, as in them. It has not the valvular construction of the entry, as in the horse, and therefore regurgitation is possible. Man, with a similar simple stomach, occasionally ruminates, and this rare abnormal act may occur in a hyrax; but it has not the ruminating organization, nor have the individuals in captivity at the Zoological Gardens been observed to ruminate.' Even if some hyrax should ever be observed to chew the cud, the general question will not be affected thereby; normally the hyrax is no more a ruminating animal than man.

* The camel, therefore, as only partially dividing the hoof, was accounted amongst the ' unclean' beasts.

rides. It should be remarked that the dog-leaders are surprisingly adroit in finding a hare, and are encouraged by a reward, if they give proper notice, which is done by calling out deliberately Yatoo! (sho sleeps !). In this order the Barabar marches slowly, and as soon as the hare is put up, one or a brace of the nearest hounds is slipped, and the falconer galloping after them, throws off his hawk. Such of the company as choose follow; the others remain standing in the Barabar, to which the sportsmen return when the chose is over. The haro cannot run long when the hawk behaves properly, but sometimes getting the start of the dogs she gains the nest hill and escapes. It now and then happens, when the hawk is fierce and voracious in an unusual degree, that the hare is struck dead at the first stroke, but that is very uncommon; for the hawks preferred for hare-hunting ore taught to pounce and buffet the game, not to seize it, and they rise a little between each attack, to descend again with fresh force. In this manner the game is confused and retarded till the greyhounds come in.'

The modern Orientals hunt gazelles, partridges, sand-grouse, quails, herons, bustards, &c, by means of falcons; sometimes, as in the case of antelopes and hares, assisted by greyhounds. There is, however, no evidence to show that the ancient Orientals pursued falconry. 'The partridge hunted on the mountains,' to which David compares himself, alludes probably to the method of taking these birds by throw-sticks. The modes generally adopted in Biblical times for taking wild animals were by nets and pitfalls. Dogs do not appear to have been employed at all in the chase, and are almost always spoken of in terms of reproach. House-dogs were kept by the ancient Hebrews. 'His watchmen are blind, they are all ignorant; they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark;' and shepherd-dogs were used for guarding the flocks. Job complains that his juniors 'have him in derision, whose fathers he would have disdained to set with the dogs of his flock.' A sorry race they doubtless were, and the breed does not seem to have improved. 'They are a mean, sinister, ill-conditioned generation,' says Dr. Thomson, 'kept at a distance, kicked about, and half-starved, with nothing noble or attractive about them.' Poor brutes! it would have been a wonder had they been otherwise.

Speaking of hares, Russell states that neither the Turks nor other natives are fond of the flesh; but the Arabs eat it;—that the Armenian Christians, from a religious scruple, abstain from it. Aversion to hare's flesh is not confined to the Orientals: to this day the Laplanders and some other Europeans regard it with horror. Formerly this aversion prevailed to a much greater extent than it does now, for the ancient Britons were not allowed by their religion to eat either hare, fowls, or geese, at least so

says says Caesar.* It is very curious to remark that neither in the Danish Kitchen-Middins nor in the Swiss Pfahlbauten or Lake habitations, have any remains of the hare been discovered, with the exception of a single bone at Moosseedorf.f

Of the Carnivora, express mention is frequently made in the Bible of the lion, the bear, the hyaena, the wolf, the leopard, the fox, and the jackal. All these animals, with the exception of the king of beasts, which has entirely disappeared from Palestine, are occasionally to be seen there now, though not in anything like the numbers which prevailed in Biblical times. That the lion, which was probably the Persian variety, formerlyexisted in considerable numbers in Palestine is evident from the frequent Bible allusions. According to Rabbinical writers, seven names at least are assigned to this animal at different periods of its life. In ancient times the lion inhabited some

Eirts of Egypt; but it has long since ceased to exist there, ebaoth, Beth-Lebaoth, and Laish probably derived their names from the lions which frequented these places. In the ' forests' and 'thickets,' and 'caves of the mountains,' and in the brushwood of the Jordan banks, they had their lairs: this last was their favourite haunt; and if we do not over-interpret the words of Joannes Phocas,J who travelled in Palestine about the end of the twelfth century, it would seem that lions were in his time occasionally seen there. The lion is represented as spoiling villages and towns, devouring men, and attacking flocks. Amos draws a very graphic picture of the 'shepherd taking out of the mouth of the lion two legs or a piece of an ear.' Harmer very ingeniously and with much probability supposes that this 'piece of the ear' was a portion of the long pendulous ear of the Syrian goat, which is common in Palestine at this day. The Persian lion has not the courage of his African relative. According to Olivier, § he has recourse rather to cunning than to force in the capture of his prey. He dares not attack the boar, and flies as soon as he perceives either a man or a woman, or even a child; if he catches a sheep, he makes off with his prey, but he abandons it to save himself when an Arab runs after him. If this is his true character, it may serve to help us more easily

* 'Leporem et gallinam et anserem gustare fas non putant: hwc tamen aliint animi voluptatisque causa.' (' Cirsar,' B. G. v. 12.) Did not the ancient Britons eat eggs?

t See the interesting paper by Mr. Lubbock on the Lake Habitations of Switzerland in 'The Natural History Review' for January, 1862.

J Speaking of the reedy coverts on the Jordan banks, Phocas says, iv Toutoij \f6vTaf $CAa idOaai KarotKe7y.—(Reland, 'Palest.,' vol. i. p. 294); see also Smith's 'Dictionary of the Bible,' art. Lion.

§ 'Egyptian Sepulchres and Syrian Shrines,' vol. ii. p. 58.

to

« PreviousContinue »