Каминяр Дмитрий Генаддьевич : другие произведения.

I.Akimushkin Aardvark The Ground Hog

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   Until recently they were united in a single order with the Xenarthrans, but now it is believed that the famous similarity of the Xenarthrans and Tubulidents is convergent, but not genetic. Most likely the Tubulidents are close to some extinct ancient ungulates.
   Millions of years ago the Tubulidents lived in North America, Europe, and on Madagascar. Now they survive only in Africa south of the Sahara (one, maybe two or three species). These mammals are massive, weight 50--82 kg, their height in the nape is up to 65 cm. The back is humped, the hind legs are longer than the fore, the skin is thick, strong, with sparse bristles (in Ethiopian and Central African varieties), or more deeply bristled (among the Cape aardvarks). The five fingers on the hind legs and the four on the fore are connected at the base by small webbings and are armed with strong, straight and wide claws. The muzzle is narrow like an anteater's. The ears are big - up to 20 cm in length.
   The teeth are unique. They lack enamel and roots, grow throughout the creature's life, each one resembles a short pipe with a flat top composed of multiple vertical hexagonal prisms that surround a pipe-like opening filled with pulp. The milk teeth are hidden in the gums and do not grow. The adults have 20 pseudo-molar and molar teeth that do not grow all at once. The incisors and the canines are absent.
   The aardvark is a bizarre beast: the back is tensed in an acute bow, the muzzle is stretched out into a pipe, with an almost porcine snout, the ears are donkey-like, the snake-like tongue, wound in a spring, sometimes sticks from the maw, the tail's thick and clumsy, reptile-like, and drags over the ground, the claws are more massive than those of a lion (the name 'Abu-delaf' - 'the father of claws' is derived from them), the hind limbs on the run surpass the fore (as in case of the hare), and because of that the tracks overlap and produce a big 'synthetic': footprint, as if it was made by an unknown dinosaur.
   Heed, what was told of the aardvark in the evenings (accompanied by the choruses of the cicadas) in tents, spread in the savannah:
   'This aardvark, the ground hog in our language, is the most dangerous creature of the veldt. Although it eats only the ants, both white and otherwise, and can bite no more than a toothless baby can, but how many people have suffered from it! How many pedigree livestock broke their legs. Hunting buffalo on horseback you risk falling if not into one, then into another pit of this porcine anteater. And the bull - it's just waiting for you to fall off your horse to gore you.'
   'Believe me, sir, there are twenty burrows of these aardvarks per hectare. One burrow is 500 square meters long. In this case, no matter where you will go, you will run into a burrow after 35 steps at most. But if you are close to it by accident, then you can fall into it after just three or seven steps and break your legs. That is why we do not like the aardvarks and we kill them. Although, they are harmless creatures and in those places they are actually useful. The termites would have eaten all of our homes, and furniture, and books - all wood that they can reach during the nights. They secretly crawl through the underground tunnels, but the aardvark's hearing is excellent: it hears the 'stampede' of millions of their legs even underground. After uncovering the tunnels, the aardvark follows them and licks up all the termites with its sticky tongue. You saw the termite mounds? They, perhaps, can hold up a man, an antelope, maybe even an elephant. But the aardvark effortlessly pierced them with its claws; sometimes even making such a hole that it can crawl into the mound whole and fall asleep there. Its hide is thick, it is being bitten, the white ants swarm all over it, and it sleeps on. The aardvark eats all sorts of ants, including those malign ones that steal wheat in the fields, and just image, it eats the locusts! Now the locusts, when they swarm in clouds, will devour all greenery, desolate everything. The termites, at least, ruin dead wood...'
   'Why are the aardvarks killed, then, if there's so much use from them?'
   'Because of those burrows. And their meat's just like pork. The smoked hams are especially good. However, I heard that not everyone likes it: it is supposedly tough and smells badly. And its skin - you will not find better skin to be made into belts and bridles. Bracelets are made out of it as well, and the claws are worn for good luck. The superstition still kills-off many of our animals.'
   'If the aardvark hunts at nights, sleeps during the day, and is probably very cautious, since it has such powerful hearing and smell. How can one catch it?'
   'You're right; one rarely sees it during the day. It wanders largely at night. It does not hurry, but sometimes it can walk for 14 km away from the burrow where it slept during the day. And it is cautious: it always lies in the burrow with its head towards the entrance, both sleeping and listening in at the same time. It will cover up the entrance too, so it will not be disturbed. When it does exit, it will listen first, if there is any noise, it will stick the snout out, will smell everything around it.
   'And the natives realize that the aardvark's here by the soil it plugs its burrow with. And it smells somewhat strangely, too. I heard that if an aardvark is sleeping in its burrow, the flies swarm around it, as if there was carrion, and the spiders do not waste time either, immediately cover with their webbing both the entrance to the burrow and the grass around it.
   'This webbing too gives away the aardvark to the hunters. They will surround the burrow. If it is not deep, they will uncover the sleeping animal and kill it with their spears. But a burrow can be deep, three meters deep, and then one cannot reach it with a spear. Once they're certain of that, they'll leave to find a new burrow.'
   'Why cannot it be dug out, if there are many hunters?'
   'That's impossible. You're digging, approaching it, and it digs even faster, and goes deeper and further - it doesn't cost the aardvark anything excavate 20 m and even more underground in half an hour. You can never reach one alive, even if you dig with a shovel. And it is completely impossible to grab it by any body part and pull it out. I knew one Boer: he met an aardvark and chased it. The aardvark jumped into the burrow, but the Boer grabbed the animal by its thick tail, pushed against the ground and held onto it with all of his strength. But the aardvark was stronger: it pulled and pulled the Boer after itself into its burrow and pulled him in almost completely, because the Boer was stubborn and did not want to lose his prey. But he had to, because he did not like being stuck upside down underground. His comrade pulled him out, and the aardvark burrowed so deep, that not even the shovels could reach him.'
   'If it is so strong, this aardvark, then probably none of the meat-eating animals wants to attack it?'
   'The youngsters are killed by hyenas and wild dogs. The females give birth to only one, rarely two calves in the autumn. But people say that in the spring as well. Truly, I cannot precisely tell you when they are born. The female leaves its tiny, two-week-old baby alone in the burrow at night. This is the most dangerous time in its life: then all sorts of predators are ready to devour it. Especially the pythons, if the mother poorly plugs the burrow with earth. Then it and its mother leave for the nocturnal walks. It fairs poorly there as well. It cannot burrow yet, only at six months of age it can burrow as well as an adult does. The mother, of course, is nearby, protects the youngster, but the wild dogs, as you know, do not fear even the lion...
   'By the way, I can tell you that I saw how the aardvark (it is clumsy, unlike the antelope, it is probably easy to catch up to it) fled from a lion: it jumped, as the kangaroo does, on its hind legs. Fled as an arrow. And lion did not catch it. But the lions are lazy; they do not like to run for long.
   'Against the leopards and the wild dogs the aardvark launches a desperate defence. It pushes its tail into the ground and strikes with the clawed front legs. Or, it may fall on its back and fight with all four. They say that the ground hog can even break a leopard's ribs...'
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