Jungle Animals




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By Gilcraft

By  way of introduction to the subject I reproduce an extract from an article on Cubbing published in the Sunday Chronicle of Madras.

"The jungle story, though most of its characters are animals, is alive with human interest and feelings. The scenes where Mowgli takes leave of Bagheera or where Akela was saved by Mowgli are as interesting and thrilling as any of the incidents in present-day novels. Each animal is an example of human foible or grace. We meet in this world with bullies like Shere Khan, flatterers like Tabaqui the jackal, strong able leaders like Akela, or strong, dreaded, but good people like Bagheera. We also meet with gossipers like Buldeo and people like those of the village of Seonee.

"Every character (whether the author intended it to be so or not we are not sure), is a psychological factor and a character analysis. Those who have had the privilege of working with a Cub Pack have felt the usefulness of the jungle story in the Pack life. To many a Cubmaster the jungle story has been a source of inspiration, and to every Cub in a Pack it is an inexhaustible source of thrilling stories and a fund of human interest and example."

It may be you will think this Indian opinion is prejudiced when I tell you that the Proprietor of the Sunday Chronicle is a convert to Scouting as a result of seeing the value of the introduction of over a hundred Cub Packs into villages under his care as President of the District Board (see Chapter V). If so, you and other critics of the value of the jungle atmosphere in Cubbing may be surprised to know that Sir Rabindra Nath Tagore, the famous Bengali poet and Nobel Prizeman, has written: "The most striking thing about India is that the forest and not the town is the fountainhead of all its civilization. The forest nurtured the two great ages of India, the Vedic and the Buddhist."

Now, however, we are not concerned with the value of Jungle Atmosphere but with the animals themselves. I am nothing of an artist and it is difficult for me to portray them for you, but I will do my best to make you more familiar with the real article even at the risk of shocking some of you with a description of the characteristics of the animal by whose name you may be called in your own Packs!

First of all it is necessary to give these animals their proper stage setting. The District of Seonee forms part of the Satpura tableland, containing the head-waters of the Waingunga River, a tributary of the Godavari. It is in the centre of the Central Provinces, and Seonee Town is one of the most central spots of India. The District is largely covered with forests and some forty per cent of its population is aboriginal, mostly Gonds. When I say forests, you must not imagine any luxurious tropical vegetation, full of striking colors and smells, towering trees, ropes of creepers, infested by snakes, and thickly populated by birds and beasts. The Seonee Jungle is mostly of sal- wood which grows neither very tall nor very thick. It is some 2,000 feet above sea level, and except during the rains, is dry. Birds are scarce, as in all Indian jungles. Beasts are numerous, but seldom seen. Snakes are dangerous, but do not carpet the ground. In 14 years in India, and in snake-infested districts, I only saw about a score of these creeping creatures.

Seonee Town has only some 13,000 inhabitants. It is noted in the Encyclopedia Britannica as containing a mission of "The Original Seceders from the Church of Scotland," but it also contains a prosperous Scout Group.

The old traditional Council Rock - traditional, I believe, since before the days of Cubbing - is in a pool alongside the Nagpur-Jubbelpur road. I lunched at the spot on the way up to Pachmari; both the Provincial Commissioner and I agreed that we would become somewhat damp in our hindquarters if we attempted to do a Grand Howl round it.

Rudyard Kipling was very correct in his characterizations; he has described the real India better than anyone I know; but there was no reason why he should stick slavishly to geographical features in these imaginative writings. In point of fact in the last of the jungle tales, In the Rukh, he transports Mowgli a few hundred miles north to the foothills of the Himalayas. It is sufficient that Kipling took as his main scene the Seonee District in general.

Another point worth mentioning is that there have been several authentic and recorded cases of children in India and in other countries, if we are to believe our ancient history, being brought up by wolves. One wolf-boy who was recovered in the 1890's near Agra died of smoking after being introduced to civilization. Is there a warning in that for some of us? Two girls were found in a wolf cave in the Midnapur District of Bengal in 1920, one aged two and the other eight. The reason of such cases is the habit among certain aboriginal tribes of abandoning unwanted infants.

And now to the jungle animals themselves.

The Indian wolf, I am sorry to say, has not a very prepossessing appearance. He is lighter in build and more jackal-like in looks than the wolves we are accustomed to see depicted. He is of a drab grayish color, very cunning and aggressive, accustomed to hunt in Packs, and greatly feared by the inhabitants of the places he affects. This fear has ascribed to him strength and wisdom beyond his deserts. Aboriginal peoples always seek to propitiate their enemies and other evil spirits by attributing to them graces which they do not possess.

We know that wolves spread right across the Northern hemisphere. In this country there is the story of the killing of the last wolf by Sir Ewen Cameron of Lochiel in 1680, but there is also evidence of their survival in Sutherlandshire in the following century. To-day wolves still exist in France and Spain and in times of want or extreme cold cause destruction.

A jackal is described as a 'wolf-like wild member of the dog family.' They, like all other jungle animals, lie up during the day and sally forth at night, seldom, if ever, alone, to prey on smaller mammals and poultry in the villages.

When unable to obtain living prey they are accustomed to feed on refuse and carrion of all kinds and are accordingly the scavengers of many an Indian village. As the Jungle Stories tell us, jackals also follow after larger carnivorous animals in order to finish off any 'kill' that is left over. Their cry is more appalling than that of the hyena, and their odor more offensive than that of the fox. I have poignant memories of my first introduction to a jackal when I first went out to India when one of these appalling, offensive beasts invaded my bedroom!

More recent investigations have caused us to change the pronunciation of the jackal's jungle name from Tab-a-ky to Tar-bark-i after the Persian origin.

The red dog - Dhole - is distinguished from the true dog (whichever breed you fancy from dachshund to great Dane) by having one molar less in the lower jaw. As its name suggests, the red dog is rufous-brown in color. He is larger than a jackal, hunts invariably in packs, and is as savage as they make them. A pack of wild dogs is a most dangerous thing to get in the way of. The red dogs are principally found in the Deccan, a comprehensive term for the whole of the southern half of India.

And now we come, perhaps, to more estimable characters.

Baloo is probably a species of brown bear such as are found in more or less temperate regions from Spain to Japan. The Himalayan black bear is a more carnivorous kind, although he still has a sweet tooth, and is distinguished by a white horseshoe mark on his chest. They are usually placid kind of animals, not easily roused, but the very devil if they are. They are, however, tractable and amenable to kind handling. There is a lesson in that for you Akelas who have trouble with your Baloos!

Bagheera, the panther, is a leopard. Leopards are usually some six to seven and a half feet in length, from snout to tip of tail, but I was acquainted with one that measured nine feet - I took the measurement after death! As you know, they are distinguished by the rosette-like form of black spots, without any central spot, on a ground color of pale fawn to rufous buff. It is not, however, uncommon to find specimens that are perfectly black like the Jungle Book specimen. Now you Bagheeras, keep your ears pricked for your characteristics. A leopard is a ferocious, blood-thirsty and cunning animal; it is really dangerous especially if wounded. It springs on its prey suddenly from ambush, or lies up along a branch for this purpose. I have seen that happen. At other times it will stalk stealthily until it reaches its objective. On the credit side may be put the fact that its movements are quick and graceful, and that when young it is as playful as a young kitten. At one place where I was stationed we had a couple of leopard cubs as pets. They used to put terror into the hearts of our visitors which was sometimes an advantage, but when they grew older and stronger they had to be put away.

Now it is Kaa's turn. Thirty feet is no exaggeration in length for an Indian python. It has no poison, but merely envelops its victim in its coils and crushes it to death and to pulp. It usually needs a tail purchase or anchorage in order to exert the necessary leverage. The accounts of the power of its swallow are apt to be exaggerated, however, since a small pig is about the limit so far as the stretching capacity of its jaws are concerned. There is comparatively little in the Jungle Books about his Lordship the pig, but the wild boar is feared by all other animals and refuses to care a rap for anyone. Those who have indulged in the sport of pig-sticking know it for one of the most dangerous sports. A boar will turn and charge anything at any time. We may sun ourselves in a little reflected glory from the fact that the Chief Scout - or, as he himself would say, his horse - twice won the Kadir Cup, the premier pig-sticking award of India. Kipling knew his boar, for you will remember:

"Keep peace with the Lords of the Jungle-the Tiger, the Panther, the Bear, And trouble not Hathi the silent, and mock not the Boar in his lair."

But to return to the "Middle Jungle" - Cobras are plentiful and deadly. It was a common occurrence to come on pairs and nests of them in the suburban bungalows of Calcutta, but they are not the most deadly of Indian snakes. Pride of place belong to the Krait (pronounced krite). It is a little insignificant thing, dull brown, but a quick mover. I just succeeded in stepping over one on a hill path in Assam, instead of stepping calmly on top of it. It was asleep, and it never woke up. Some of you may remember that the Cobra had something to do with the Delphic oracle, and that Apollo slew it.

Which oracular saying brings us to crocodiles. There are three kinds: - the gharial of North India which has some 27 or 29 teeth in each side of its mouth that is thus converted into a veritable fish-trap; the mugger or marsh crocodile haunts rivers and pools, and sometimes migrates long distances over land if his residence gets dried up; the salt-water crocodile is found in Bengal and is easily the largest of the three, reaching 30 feet in length. The last two eat anything they can overpower, including mankind. Bathing places on the rivers in Bengal and elsewhere are frequently fenced in with a stockade of bamboos, and bangles and other jewellery are often recovered from the stomachs of shot brutes. They are difficult to shoot because of the thick hide. Lying on a bank they are almost indistinguishable from logs, but if alarmed they move with extreme rapidity, and they can break a man's leg or crush his skull with a blow of their tail. Jacala of the Jungle Books was probably a mugger and to be respected as such. My outstanding experience with crocodiles was to come round the bend of a river in a frail native boat almost on top of a couple who were indulging in a free fight. We made for shore as fast as we could and the fight continued until after darkness had set in. I don't know what it was all about or what technique of fighting was adopted, The whole experience was really too awful to describe.

Some of the lesser folk can only be mentioned in passing. Chil, the kite, is a different bird from Ran, the eagle. In the original editions of the Jungle Book the two were rather muddled up together as the same bird, but they are not. Chi 1 eats fish, Ran eats flesh; the former inhabits the plains, the latter the Hills - the big hills, not the little hills of the Seonee jungle. They will frequently swoop down and snatch food out of your hand if you are having breakfast or tea out- of-doors. What nasty, grasping habits these Chils have! But they do see things and give the information to others, Mysa, the buffalo, is hardly a lesser thing, but a very bulky animal. Buffalos are domesticated in India and the margin between the tame and the wild animal is very small. They are slow moving and easily led at the best of times, but if they get excited they can become quite uncontrollable and very fierce. They are herded and walloped by the youngest children, and are used for almost all agricultural purposes, in addition to providing fuel which gives off a more acrid smoke than that provided by the bullock. The "Little Folk," the bees, are much the same as ours, but with a longer sting.

The banderlog of the Jungle Books are the grey, long-tailed, and not too ugly variety common in the Central Provinces. There are many of them to be seen all through the Seonee Jungle. When I was running a Cub Wood Badge Course at Pachmari we went out for an afternoon expedition, down off the plateau to a sacred cave in one of the ravines below. On the way back we halted at a clearing in the jungle for tea. Suitably placed in the middle there was a large rock which led us to do the Grand Howl and practice some jungle dances before we finally departed up the path again. I was shepherding the Course ahead - over 70 of them - and chanced to look back before turning the corner of the path that would take us out of sight of the clearing. What I saw made me halt the two who were with me. We watched a score or so of monkeys, who had been lurking near us in the jungle come out into the clearing, make a kind of circle round the rock, and obviously attempt to imitate what these other weird animals had been doing. They were worse at it than the Course had been.

On the subsequent Scout Course one of the Patrols on hike came across the track of a tiger, but not the tiger itself. There is no space left to talk to you about Shere Khan and Hathi, of tigers and elephants. I agree with Kipling's analysis of the characters of each of these animals. The tiger is not a brave animal, and the elephant is a most sagacious one, although I disbelieve the talk of the elephant in the circus!

More Gilcraft Gleanings






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