THE GREAT CATS OF THE AMERICAS - THE PUMA AND THE JAGUAR
No other wildcat has its' living space spread so far along the meridian as the puma does: from the Southern Alaska to the Magellan's straits. That was, at least, still at the start of the 20th century. Now, in many places, the puma is exterminated completely or almost completely. No longer, apparently, there are pumas in Alaska, they were exterminated there more than 50 years ago, nor are there pumas in the eastern Canada and USA (it was those pumas that were called the cougars - the name, which, even in modern times, is sometimes given to all the pumas). In Canada and in the USA the pumas have survived only in the west and in some parts of Mississippi's delta and in Florida.
Once upon a time the pumas were considered to be closely related to the lions. Some clues of this old theory can still be seen in the puma's names: 'mountain lion', 'silver lion', and 'Andean lion'. Some of the zoologists suppose that genetically, as it was mentioned earlier, that the puma is close to the small cats.
The smallest pumas (weighing about 30 kg) live in the damp rainforests of South America. Their fur is short and reddish-brown. The biggest (up to 110 kg), silvery- or dark grey - in the Rocky mountains of North America and the uttermost south of their wide habitat - Terra del Fuego.
The hunting domain of a puma is great: up to 100 miles in circumference. Even if it is not bothered, the puma migrates in the range of those miles, never staying anywhere for long.
Nature has not awarded the pumas with any spots or stripes, through their kittens are spotted. With the first molt this atavistic gift vanishes. Only some of the fully-grown pumas of the rainforest have barely noticeable traces of this infantile mottleness on their fur.
'The puma is a poor child that, however, went astray' - this foggy characteristic was uttered by a true hunter, Francisco, in the novel of A. Arletti 'The Hunter'. Francisco Garrido often encountered animals, and therefore his characteristic, no matter how mysterious it is, is interesting to decipher. Why 'poor'? Why 'a child'? Why, finally, it 'went astray'?
The hunter loved the nature and therefore in the phrase that he said compassion to the true troubles of the puma resonates. And there are troubles indeed. The first trouble is common to all of the animals: armed humans. The second - not quite understandable hatred of the neighbouring jaguar.
Well, why then 'a child'?
The puma loves to have fun: when feeling frisky, it jumps (and it is a phenomenal jumper: 5-6 m in length, and when jumping down - up to 14 m!). It chases butterflies like a small kitten, tumbling, it catches its tail, if there is no one else to play with. Its big calm eyes looking so kindly that they are almost naive. The Native Americans say that the puma is a friend of humans, never attacks them itself. And if those two meet in a deserted area, the puma will run up, jumping and digging the earth with its paw, as if inviting the person to play. Alas, people do not understand such jokes and respond with shooting back.
The question, what to understand by the words 'went astray' is answered, apparently, easily. The puma is a big animal. In Canada it chases deer through the deep snow, and in the hot prairies of Argentina it pursues rheas, the relatives of the ostrich. The people, as it is known, look at everything that might be useful to them, as their property. At that the puma, sadly, not always differentiates which animal or bird is currently free, and which for the human comfort is put into an enclosure, barn or coup. It sometimes breaks the relative peace of the 'civilized' animals to put them into a peace that is final and timeless. And that is completely unforgiving.
So, 'the puma is a poor child that, however, went astray'...
The jaguar's life space, if it is measured in the geographical categories, is smaller than that of the puma: from the south-west of the USA (Texas and Arizona where it, apparently, is exterminated already) to Northern Argentina. Not everyone will distinguish the jaguar from the leopard. It is very similar and the spots are almost identical: only bigger, and some of the rosettes have a small black spot in the middle. The head of the jaguar is larger (the skull is massive, almost like that of the tiger), the tail is shorter, and the animal itself is relatively shorter, but taller than the leopard is. (It weighs on the average more than 100 kg).
The jaguar is an excellent runner, climber and swimmer. Like the tiger, it is very fond of water. It easily crosses the Amazon, and there was a case - the jaguar attacked people in a boat, they jumped into the water, and the jaguar sat in the boat and floated onwards, looking around. It loves to float, lying on a log, down the river, and sometimes it gets so carried away that the cur-rent carries it into the ocean. The jaguar is an artful angler, can stalk fish at the water's edge for hours. Near the river it hunts the capybaras, the tapirs. It even hunts the caimans that are small (and the large caimans hunt it!). It catches turtles on the seashore. It jumps from the bushes and turns one turtle after the other upside down. The turtles get turned around and cannot escape by themselves, but neither do they die and rot. Then the jaguar returns and uses its claws to extract those turtles that got tired of lying upside down and pulled out their heads. The jaguars live both in the steppes and in the damp swampy forests (and often acquire rickets there!).
THE WILD HORSE
In 1877 Nikolai Mikhailovich Przhevalski returned from Djungaria and brought a hide of a wild horse. He already, during his first journey to Mongolia, in 1870-1873, heard a lot about wild horses, 'which are called by the Mongols 'dzerlik-adu' ('wild herd')'. Shortly afterwards Przhevalski in his new journeys to Central Asia passed through Djungaria's deserts and there he saw with his own eyes the uncatchable dzerlik-adu.
Przhevalski was unable to approach closely 'for a certain shot' any of the wild horses, but he manages to get their skull and hide. They were gifted to him by A.K. Tihanov, the superior of Zaisanky establishment. And Tihanov received it from Kirghiz hunters, who hunted in Central Djungaria.
During the day the wild horses keep in remote, obscure places, and at night, carefully sniffing and alertedly snorting, they go to graze and drink. They walk after each other via their own paths. They usually migrate in small herds, from five to twenty horses. The herd is led by an old stallion. It is very brave and wild, but loyal to its herd.
By the beginning of the 20th century only three wild horses (two mares and a stallion) were safely brought to Europe: to Askania-Nova, to the estate of Fridrich Faltz-Fain. They grazed in spacious enclosures in the Ukrainian steppe, causing jealousy in all of the zoo owners.
At the end the duke of Bedford persuaded Karl Gagenbek, a famous capturer of animals, to catch wild horses for the Wobern-Abbey Park, established by Bedford, where rare animals lived.
People sent by Gagenbek brought 28 foals of wild horses into Hamburg. They, really, were the last that people were able to catch in Mongolia. The Przhevalski's horses that now live in zoos all over the world descended from some of them. Wild horses are almost gone in the wild, in Central Asia. Several dozens of them live out their lives in the Gobi desert, in Mongolia and the neighboring areas of China. Despite the ban on wild horse hunt, Professor V.G. Geptner writes that they are probably doomed to perish soon.
RHINOCEROS - THE 'COUSIN' OF THE HORSE
Since long ago, the rhinoceros' horn was famous in the East as the best cure from many ills.
This strange, completely unfounded belief in the magical property of the horn has killed-off the rhinoceroses. Once upon a time they were plentiful in many countries of South Asia, and now only several hundred remain.
And, despite protection, the rhinoceroses are kept on being killed off. Entire teams of well-armed hunters burst through the borders of the national parks and kill, kill the horned pachyderms, kill as much as they can. In 1958, for example, a big gang of poachers entered the Rapty valley, the last haven of Nepalese rhinoceroses and made there a bloody slaughter, shooting every rhinoceros that they could see, and killed five hundred animals.
The thing is, that even in the modern times, when the humanity is unleashed the era of space exploration, still many people believe in the wondrous power of the rhinoceros horn and pay for it great money. (It, aside from everything else, restores youth as well! That's why the price is so great as well: many still believe that youth can be bought for money.) On Sumatra, for example, big horn costs a thousand pounds sterling, just as a first-rate car does. When the discussion reaches that sort of money, some people lose their sanity and peace of mind until they get them, these moneys, walking in the jungle. Therefore no protection helps.
On planet Earth there are still five species of rhino (yet!): two African, white and black, and three Asian - Indian, Javanese and Sumatran, or Asian two-horned rhinoceros. The Asian rhinos differ from the African in that they have only horn on the noses, while the African have two. But the Sumatran also has two. Also, the skin of the Asian rhinoceroses is in large folds: it's such an impression, that the animal is clothed in armour. In case of the Indian rhinoceros even the tail, when it is suppressed, fits fully into the indentation of the armour left for it. Just as in the case of the black rhinoceros of Africa, it has an upper lip sharpened into a small proboscis. But its' best feature - the sharpened and elongated incisors of the lower jaw. When attacking, the rhinoceros usually uses them, and its' horn - more rarely. It's a large animal: it weighs two tonnes and more. It prefers solitude. Each animal has its own sternly protected territory, its own paths through it and grazing grounds, even specially chosen places for the mud baths.
Only a few centuries ago the Indian rhinos dwelled everywhere in India, and now survive only in Assam, Bengal, and Nepal. At the beginning of the 20th century in Assam (the Kaziranga prov-ince) there were about a dozen of them, and even fewer in Bengal.
In 1908 a national park was established in Kaziranga. Its size was small: 30 kilometres in length, and around 13 in width. But the success of the establishment surpassed any expectations: the number of the rhinoceroses in twenty years has increased ten times, and in the 40s there were four hundred of them already! Then they began to die off because of some infectious diseases introduced by the livestock. Therefore nowadays in Kaziranga there are around 260 rhinoceroses, and in the whole India - around four hundred.
Aside from India, the great Asian rhinoceros has survived only in Nepal: some scientists state that there are about a thousand of these beasts, others - that only... fifty. But most likely there are three hundred of them, according to the experts of IUCN.
Various zoos of the world received young rhinoceroses from Kaziranga. They began to breed in captivity. Until that time, basically, nothing was known about the rhinoceros reproduction, and now it became clear: they mate in the early spring and after that for eighteen more months the female carries the calf inside of it.
The Javanese rhinoceros externally resembles the Indian, but is smaller than the latter. There are, admittedly, also some differences both in the form of its skin folds and that only the males are armed with the horn on the nose. It is called the Javanese because nowadays it lives only on Java, on that small peninsula that concludes the western edge of that island. And once upon a time, centuries ago, it lived on a very spacious territory: from Northern India and Southern China to Sumatra and Java.
In the beginning of the 30s on the peninsula, the only place where the Javanese rhinos, apparently, have survived, a national park was established, in which, aside from the rhinos, tigers were protected as well. Now, the rhinos here, according to statements, number either two dozen or fifty (the latter number is more possible). Their numbers are close to the critical level: the possibility of them meeting each other during the breeding season is too small, and therefore people are worried that it is possible that the animals won't be able to replace their natural loss via the newborns, and their numbers will not rise, but fall.
The third Asian species, the Sumatran two-horned rhinoceros is the smallest of them all: usually no taller than 120, rarer 150 centimetres. It too, didn't live just on the island in honour of which it is named. Earlier the two-horned rhinoceros has lived both in India and in China, and now, aside from Sumatra - in Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia and the island of Borneo. But everywhere - only in very small numbers. In Myanmar, for example, in 1959 it was estimated that there were only 40 rhinos of this specie, and overall there're 150 of them on planet Earth.
In Africa the rhinoceros situation is somewhat better. In any case, the one with the black rhinoceros, which is still a pretty common animal in these parts (in all of Africa there are 12-13 thousand of them), and until recently they were even permitted to be hunted upon.
The white rhinoceros isn't called so because it is white: its' hide is dirty grey, just as the black rhinoceros'. Some scientists believe that the name 'white' was given to it because in the custom of all the rhinos it loves to wallow in mud, and when it leaves after a 'bath' and the mud dries-up on it, then from a distance it looks light grey, almost white. The black rhinoceros, on the other hand, lives in more forested regions and either the colour of mud there is different or it wallows less... In short, the black rhinoceros doesn't change colour so often.
Others say that mud got nothing to do with that: the word 'white' had appeared in the zoological literature on the rhinoceroses due to the sounding similarity of the English words 'white' and 'wide'. The Boers, the Dutch settlers, called the white rhinoceros Wijd, which means 'white': its' upper lip is very wide, therefore the nostrils too are spread wider than the black rhinoceros'. The Dutch Wijd transformed into English Wide and then into White.
In 1900, the zoologists with great embarrassment have learned that the white rhinos live not only in South Africa, to the south of Zambezi (as supposed), but also in three thousand kilometres to the north - in the swamps of the Upper Nile, in Sudan.
The white rhinoceros is the second biggest (after the elephant) land mammal: one meter eighty centimetres is its height (but they can be taller!). Its weight - three tonnes and more. Its horn alone can be as long as a short man is tall!
But this beast is very rare. In 1920 only three thousand white rhinos lived on the planet: twenty six in South Africa, the rest in Sudan. How many of them there are now?
The 'Red Data Book', the edition that keeps the tally of the endangered animals, states that almost four thousand: 925 - in South Africa, 900 - in Congo, 100 - in Uganda and 2000 in Sudan. If it so, then the second heavyweight of the animal kingdom is probably saved. But for how long?
The survival of the white rhinoceros is being countered by certain biological and ecological circumstances. Their fertility rate is too small. They give birth to just single calf (just as all other perissodactyls do). That's not that bad, but the pregnancy is record-worthy, for only the elephant's is longer - 18 months. For a year the female feeds its newborn calf with milk, and then protects it for several more years. The white rhinos avoid all sort of scrubland, preferring the open savannas, and their food is mostly grass (for that reason their lip is so flat too: to better graze on grass. The black rhinoceros eats lots of twigs and leaves, and a lip that is elongated into a small proboscis is better to crop them). People exile the rhinos from the open steppes both with firearms and with ploughing of the fields.
The rhinos cannot notice the hunters from afar as the ostriches do, because their sight is poor (though their senses of smell and hearing are excellent). A certain assistance in regards to protection they receive from the friendship with the red-beaked birds the oxpeckers that love to sit on their wide backs. Noticing the enemy, the oxpeckers cry out, and the rhinos undertake immediate measures to protect themselves.
Like the other big and strong animals that had no natural enemies, the rhinos proved to be completely unprepared for effective protection against the new danger that appeared on the African continent in the person of the European hunter with a deadly weapon in his hands. Without being particularly alarmed, they let the hunter to thirty footsteps - a certain shot - and fall, expertly struck down through the head or heart. If it's a miss or the wound isn't mortal, they usually flee, but they can attack too. Still, sufficiently imprecisely: the rhinoceros sees poorly, isn't manoeuvrable on the run, and if you can just jump aside for a couple of steps, then the entire mass of meat, bones and thick skin, snorting 'passes by, and then stops and will stare with surprise, as to where has the hunter gone off to'. Now it is easy to fire the second and third shots right in the mortal places of the rhinoceros.
And the sleep of the rhino is strong, insensitive. The Masai boys in Serengeti, according to Grzimek, play this game, taking into account the limited awareness of the sleeping rhinoceros. One will quietly sneak upon a rhinoceros and put a rock on its back. The second must come over and take the rock away. The third and the fourth begin this anew, and so on 'until the rhinoceros won't wake up. This game is far from safe, but the Masai aren't cowards either'.
The rhinos are also killed by their bred-into-bone habit of sticking to the same places, their exceptional stability (the individual territory of a black rhinoceros - around ten square miles). These pachyderms will not willingly migrate from the nearby valleys to empty spaces where all the local rhinos were killed off. And when a drought strikes their lands and all hoofed mammals, and more importantly, the elephants leave to seek better pastures, the rhinos stay, even if in the neighbourhood there's not a drop of water.
The elephants are the only animals of the savannah, which are capable of patient and artful digging of deep holes in the ground. Gradually, these holes get filled with water. Later on, all of the steppe's quadrupeds and birds drink it. Therefore there, where are no natural water holes, the life is possible largely because of the elephants.
The rhinos are good-natured, according to Grzimek, although many before him stated the opposite, naively believing (as Hemingway did) that the excessive irritability of the rhinos happens because of the eternal constipation that plagues these pachyderms.
Doctor Grzimek says that the young lions love, while playing, to tease the rhinos. They'll surround the pachyderm, and then one and then another will approach it from behind and after heavily slapping the rhinoceros 'in the rear', jump away. The latter, of course, is indignant in such familiarity, whirls around quickly and angrily, but... there's nobody behind it: the lions have hid.
The lions' relations with the rhinos are of a mutual respect, and are quite peaceful: they don't harm one another. The elephant and the rhinoceros too remain neutral. If they meet along a narrow path, then after non-serious warnings from the both side in shape of threatening poises, they peacefully go their own ways. Usually the rhinoceros gives way to the elephant first. But it happens that the elephant does that too.
Grzimek has also told about such an interesting incident with the rhinos (albeit from external sources): three rhinos, 'leaving the forests of Ngorongoro crater in a not quite usual manner were noticed. They stuck tightly to each other'. They were a trio of females, and the one who was supposed to give birth soon, was led by her girlfriends. 'When the rhinos noticed, that they were watched, they stopped and began to cautiously look around. But one of the females, continued to massage with its head and horn the side of the pregnant one'.
THE TAPIR - A RELIC ANIMAL
The tapir"s appearance had hardly changed at all for the last 30 million years, and in our times it is very similar to the ancient forerunners of its kind and that of the horses. In some ways it re-minds one of the rhinoceros, but in others of the horse. The tapir"s hooves, located on the three-toed (hind) legs and four-toed (fore) legs are very horse-like (similar even in microscopic details). It even has corns on its legs, below the elbow joints, very similar to the horse"s chestnuts. The American tapir has a small mane on its neck. The upper lip, more mobile than that of the horse, is stretched-out into a small proboscis. The tapirs are born dressed in the style that the ancestors of many animal species had once worn: white, broken-up stripes are scattered on the dark background going from head to tail. The same goes for the legs.
Before the ice period, the tapirs dwelled in Europe, North America and China. But nowadays they"ve survived only in South America (three species) and in South Asia (Malaya, Myanmar, Thailand, Sumatra) - a single species.
The tapirs are still numerous in low-land, swampy forests of South America. Dense undergrowth that can be penetrated only via the tapirs" paths hides these meek animals. They"re not afraid of big rivers and are fine swimmers. But in the water the crocodilians (and piranhas, the carnivorous fishes) threaten their lives, and on land - the jaguars and the hunters of the native tribes.
The mountain tapir, a furrier species, lives high in the Andes Mountains of Columbia, Ecuador and Peru. In some parts of the same mountain range, as well as in the mountains of the Central America, the Central American tapir still manages to survive.
In 1919, the father of palaeontology and some other biological sciences, the famous French in-vestigator George Cuvier arrogantly stated that, in his opinion, science has uncovered all of the large animals. And within several years he had to add to his "Natural history" a description of a new species of a big mammal - the Asian tapir that was completely unexpectedly discovered in the forests of South-East Asia. Until then, the zoologists knew only the South American tapirs.
The Asian tapir is coloured too noticeably and brightly at a first glance. The head, the neck, the nape and the legs are black, while the entire back, sides, buttocks and thighs in their upper half are purely white, as if a snow-white saddle was put onto the animal. The masking effect of such a colouration is explained by an analogy with the zebra: the contrasting colours almost dismember the animal into shapeless spots and the usual, visual shape of the quadruped meld with the other coloured spots of the nearby nature. This optical illusion is especially potent in moonlight, at night, when the tapirs (including the American species) mostly do their walks through the woods, feeding on leaves, branches and juicy stems of swamp plants.
The tapirs love water, swim a lot and just lie there, cooling down in the shallows. The pregnancy of the tapirs lasts for more than a year (13 months), and results in one, very rarely two, newborns. Standing-up on its strong legs, the striped calf immediately follows its mother.