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Some Inhabitants of Africa - Harper's


Boys and girls who have visited menageries have probably seen an animal shaped something like a horse, but beautifully adorned with black and tawny stripes, standing silent and sulky in its cage. This is the zebra, the wild horse of the great plains of Southern Africa. There it lives in great herds, and browses on the thin grass and low shrubs of the wilderness. It enjoys the widest liberty, and gallops and gambols merrily with its companions through regions where the foot of man rarely penetrates. It is not strange that when captured it refuses to be tamed, and retains its wild nature to the end. There are, however, exceptions to this rule. There are at present a pair of zebras in the Garden of Plants, at Paris, which, by the constant care and kindness of their young keeper, have gradually come to show a great affection for him, and will even allow him to harness them to a little carriage and drive them about the streets of Paris.

The zebra's chief weapons of defense are its lively little heels, which it uses vigorously when attacked. It is a very wise and cunning beast, and as its sharp ears detect the slightest rustling among the bushes, it is very difficult to approach. The hyenas leave the zebra in peace, and even lions and leopards rarely engage in battle with it. They are quite content to pounce upon the sickly members of the herd which have lagged behind their companions, and are alone and defenseless; for if any enemy attacks a herd, the sagacious animals at once form a circle, their heads facing the centre, and begin such a lively battery with their heels that the attacking party is glad to save himself by flight.

The mane of the zebra is thick, but very short, and forms an upright fringe from its forehead down the back of its neck to its body. Its skin is striped from the tip of its nose to the end of its tail, and down its legs to the hoof. The natives hunt it vigorously, as they prize its beautiful skin for personal adornment, and its meat is favorite food. They kill it with spears, or by pit-falls, in which the poor creatures get entangled, and are easily dispatched.

Large numbers of the zebra are shot by Europeans, who are covetous of its striped skin, while at the same time the meat gives abundant provision to their native followers. Mr. Stanley thus describes the killing of two of these beautiful creatures on the mountainous hunting grounds of Kitangeh, near the east coast of Africa: "It was not until we had walked briskly over a long stretch of tawny grass, crushed by sheer force through a brambly jungle, and trampled down a path through clumps of slender cane stalks, that we came at last in view of a small herd of zebras. These animals are so quick of scent and ear, and so vigilant with their eyes, that across an open space it is most difficult to stalk them. But by dint of tremendous exertion I contrived to approach within two hundred and fifty yards, taking advantage of every thin tussock of grass, and, almost at random, fired. One of the herd leaped from the ground, galloped a few short maddened strides, and then, on a sudden, staggered, kneeled, trembled, and fell over, its legs kicking the air. Its companions whinnied shrilly for their mate, and presently, wheeling in circles with graceful motion, advanced nearer, still whinnying, until I dropped another with a crushing ball through the head—much against my wish, for I think zebras were created for a better purpose than to be eaten."

The quagga and the dauw, both inhabitants of South Africa, resemble the zebra, but are not so regularly striped nor so brilliant in coloring. They are not so vicious in character, and are capable of being tamed. The quagga is made useful by the settlers near the Cape of Good Hope, and is taught to draw and to carry burdens. A settler once captured a zebra when it was a colt. The animal accustomed itself to captivity, and appeared so good-natured that its owner thought to make it as useful as the quagga. As a trial, he bridled it one day and jumped on its back. The animal at once began to rear furiously, and rushed with its rider into a deep river. The man clung desperately to the furious little beast, and was safely carried to the shore. But when he dismounted, the zebra turned in a rage, and suddenly bit his ear off. After that he concluded to remain content with his quagga team.

There are many kinds of large quadrupeds in Africa, some of which are native to no other country. Besides the three members of the zebra family, there is the harmless, shy giraffe, with its beautiful spotted body, its long, slender neck, and its delicate head, which it carries fifteen feet or more from the ground. This graceful animal is also hunted by the natives for its soft skin and its delicate flesh, which is considered a great dainty at a royal African feast.


One can imagine the peaceful life of these herbivorous animals of the great jungles, when not disturbed by the ravages of lions and other blood-thirsty beasts. In our engraving a pretty meeting of these creatures is represented. A company of zebras have gathered by a marshy pool to drink, while a huge two-horned rhinoceros, his great nose resting on a fallen tree, looks wonderingly at these uninvited guests to his particular swamp. Two zebras are in the water, eagerly drinking, while the others look up at the lord of the domain as if saying, "Excuse us, kind sir, and allow us to refresh ourselves a little, after galloping about in the sun; we will not trample the tall reeds half as much as you do yourself."

In the distance a crowd of shy giraffes are watching intently, as if they too were anxious to refresh themselves with a draught of cooling water.