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Wild Animals






Part of: The Relapse into Barbarism
From: After London

When the ancients departed, great numbers of their cattle perished. It
was not so much the want of food as the inability to endure exposure
that caused their death; a few winters are related to have so reduced
them that they died by hundreds, many mangled by dogs. The hardiest that
remained became perfectly wild, and the wood cattle are now more
difficult to approach than deer.

There are two kinds, the white and the black. The white (sometimes dun)
are believed to be the survivors of the domestic roan-and-white, for the
cattle in our enclosures at the present day are of that colour. The
black are smaller, and are doubtless little changed from their state in
the olden times, except that they are wild. These latter are timid,
unless accompanied by a calf, and are rarely known to turn upon their
pursuers. But the white are fierce at all times; they will not, indeed,
attack man, but will scarcely run from him, and it is not always safe to
cross their haunts.

The bulls are savage beyond measure at certain seasons of the year. If
they see men at a distance, they retire; if they come unexpectedly face
to face, they attack. This characteristic enables those who travel
through districts known to be haunted by white cattle to provide against
an encounter, for, by occasionally blowing a horn, the herd that may be
in the vicinity is dispersed. There are not often more than twenty in a
herd. The hides of the dun are highly prized, both for their intrinsic
value, and as proofs of skill and courage, so much so that you shall
hardly buy a skin for all the money you may offer; and the horns are
likewise trophies. The white or dun bull is the monarch of our forests.

Four kinds of wild pigs are found. The most numerous, or at least the
most often seen, as it lies about our enclosures, is the common
thorn-hog. It is the largest of the wild pigs, long-bodied and
flat-sided, in colour much the hue of the mud in which it wallows. To
the agriculturist it is the greatest pest, destroying or damaging all
kinds of crops, and routing up the gardens. It is with difficulty kept
out by palisading, for if there be a weak place in the wooden framework,
the strong snout of the animal is sure to undermine and work a passage
through.

As there are always so many of these pigs round about inhabited places
and cultivated fields, constant care is required, for they instantly
discover an opening. From their habit of haunting the thickets and bush
which come up to the verge of the enclosures, they have obtained the
name of thorn-hogs. Some reach an immense size, and they are very
prolific, so that it is impossible to destroy them. The boars are fierce
at a particular season, but never attack unless provoked to do so. But
when driven to bay they are the most dangerous of the boars, on account
of their vast size and weight. They are of a sluggish disposition, and
will not rise from their lairs unless forced to do so.

The next kind is the white hog, which has much the same habits as the
former, except that it is usually found in moist places, near lakes and
rivers, and is often called the marsh-pig. The third kind is perfectly
black, much smaller in size, and very active, affording by far the best
sport, and also the best food when killed. As they are found on the
hills where the ground is somewhat more open, horses can follow freely,
and the chase becomes exciting. By some it is called the hill-hog, from
the locality it frequents. The small tusks of the black boar are used
for many ornamental purposes.

These three species are considered to be the descendants of the various
domestic pigs of the ancients, but the fourth, or grey, is thought to be
the true wild boar. It is seldom seen, but is most common in the
south-western forests, where, from the quantity of fern, it is called
the fern-pig. This kind is believed to represent the true wild boar,
which was extinct, or merged in the domestic hog among the ancients,
except in that neighbourhood where the strain remained.

With wild times, the wild habits have returned, and the grey boar is at
once the most difficult of access, and the most ready to encounter
either dogs or men. Although the first, or thorn-hog, does the most
damage to the agriculturist because of its numbers, and its habit of
haunting the neighbourhood of enclosures, the others are equally
injurious if they chance to enter the cultivated fields.

The three principal kinds of wild sheep are the horned, the thyme, and
the meadow. The thyme sheep are the smallest, and haunt the highest
hills in the south, where, feeding on the sweet herbage of the ridges,
their flesh is said to acquire a flavour of wild thyme. They move in
small flocks of not more than thirty, and are the most difficult to
approach, being far more wary than deer, so continuously are they hunted
by the wood-dogs. The horned are larger, and move in greater numbers; as
many as two hundred are sometimes seen together.

They are found on the lower slopes and plains, and in the woods. The
meadow sheep have long shaggy wool, which is made into various articles
of clothing, but they are not numerous. They haunt river sides, and the
shores of lakes and ponds. None of these are easily got at, on account
of the wood-dogs; but the rams of the horned kind are reputed to
sometimes turn upon the pursuing pack, and butt them to death. In the
extremity of their terror whole flocks of wild sheep have been driven
over precipices and into quagmires and torrents.

Besides these, there are several other species whose haunt is local. On
the islands, especially, different kinds are found. The wood-dogs will
occasionally, in calm weather, swim out to an island and kill every
sheep upon it.

From the horses that were in use among the ancients the two wild species
now found are known to have descended, a fact confirmed by their evident
resemblance to the horses we still retain. The largest wild horse is
almost black, or inclined to a dark colour, somewhat less in size than
our present waggon horses, but of the same heavy make. It is, however,
much swifter, on account of having enjoyed liberty for so long. It is
called the bush-horse, being generally distributed among thickets and
meadow-like lands adjoining water.

The other species is called the hill-pony, from its habitat, the hills,
and is rather less in size than our riding-horse. This latter is short
and thick-set, so much so as not to be easily ridden by short persons
without high stirrups. Neither of these wild horses are numerous, but
neither are they uncommon. They keep entirely separate from each other.
As many as thirty mares are sometimes seen together, but there are
districts where the traveller will not observe one for weeks.

Tradition says that in the olden times there were horses of a slender
build whose speed outstripped the wind, but of the breed of these famous
racers not one is left. Whether they were too delicate to withstand
exposure, or whether the wild dogs hunted them down is uncertain, but
they are quite gone. Did but one exist, how eagerly it would be sought
out, for in these days it would be worth its weight in gold, unless,
indeed, as some affirm, such speed only endured for a mile or two.

It is not necessary, having written thus far of the animals, that
anything be said of the birds of the woods, which every one knows were
not always wild, and which can, indeed, be compared with such poultry as
are kept in our enclosures. Such are the bush-hens, the wood-turkeys,
the galenae, the peacocks, the white duck and the white goose, all of
which, though now wild as the hawk, are well known to have been once
tame.

There were deer, red and fallow, in numerous parks and chases of very
old time, and these, having got loose, and having such immense tracts to
roam over unmolested, went on increasing till now they are beyond
computation, and I have myself seen a thousand head together. Within
these forty years, as I learn, the roe-deer, too, have come down from
the extreme north, so that there are now three sorts in the woods.
Before them the pine-marten came from the same direction, and, though
they are not yet common, it is believed they are increasing. For the
first few years after the change took place there seemed a danger lest
the foreign wild beasts that had been confined as curiosities in
menageries should multiply and remain in the woods. But this did not
happen.

Some few lions, tigers, bears, and other animals did indeed escape,
together with many less furious creatures, and it is related that they
roamed about the fields for a long time. They were seldom met with,
having such an extent of country to wander over, and after a while
entirely disappeared. If any progeny were born, the winter frosts must
have destroyed it, and the same fate awaited the monstrous serpents
which had been collected for exhibition. Only one such animal now exists
which is known to owe its origin to those which escaped from the dens of
the ancients. It is the beaver, whose dams are now occasionally found
upon the streams by those who traverse the woods. Some of the aquatic
birds, too, which frequent the lakes, are thought to have been
originally derived from those which were formerly kept as curiosities.

In the castle yard at Longtover may still be seen the bones of an
elephant which was found dying in the woods near that spot.





Next: Men Of The Woods

Previous: The Great Forest



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