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That large animals require luxuriant vegetation has been a general assumption which has passed from one work to another, but I do not hesitate to say that it is completely false and that it has vitiated the reasoning of geologists on some points of great interest in the ancient history of the world. The prejudice has probably been derived from India, and the Indian islands, where troops of elephants, noble forests, and impenetrable jungles are associated together in everyone's mind. If, however, we refer to any work of travels through the southern parts of Africa, we shall find allusions in almost every page either to the desert character of the country or to the numbers of large animals inhabiting it. The same thing is rendered evident by the many engravings which have been published in various parts of the interior Dr Andrew Smith, who has lately succeeded in passing the Tropic of Capricorn, informs me that taking into consideration the whole of the southern part of Africa, there can be no doubt of its being a sterile country. On the southern coasts, there are some fine forests, but with these exceptions, the traveler may pass for days together through open plains, covered by poor and
scanty vegetation. Now, if we look to the animals inhabiting these wide plains, we shall find their numbers extraordinarily great, and their bulk immense.
It may be supposed that although the species are numerous, the individuals of each kind are few. By the kindness of Dr Smith, I am enabled to show that the case is very different. He informs me that in one day's march with the bullock-wagons, he saw, without wandering to any t distance on either side, between one-hundred and one-hundred and fifty rhinoceroses-the same day he saw several herds of giraffes, amounting together to nearly a hundred.
At the distance of a little more than one hour's march from their place of encampment on the In this same river, there were likewise crocodiles. Of course, it was a case quite extraordinary to see so many great animals crowded together, but it evidently proves that they must exist in great numbers. Dr Smith describes that the country passed through that day as being thinly covered with grass, and bushes about four feet high, and still more thinly with mimosa trees.
Besides these large animals, anyone the least acquainted with the natural history of the Cape has read of the herds of antelopes, which can be compared only with the flocks of migratory birds. The numbers indeed of the lion, panther, and hyena, and the multitude of birds of prey, plainly speak of the abundance of the smaller quadrupeds. One evening, seven lions were counted at the same time prowling round Dr. Smith's encampment. As this, an able naturalist remarked to me, each day the carnage in Southern Africa must indeed be terrific! I confess that it is truly surprising how such a number of animals can find support in a country producing so
The larger quadrupeds no doubt roam over wide tracts in search of it; and their food chiefly consists of underwood, which probably contains many nutrients in a small bulk. Dr. Smith also informs me that the vegetation has a rapid growth; no sooner is a part consumed, than its place is supplied by a fresh stock There can be no doubt, however, that our ideas respecting the apparent amount of food necessary for the support of large quadrupeds are much exaggerated. The belief that where large quadrupeds exist, the vegetations must necessarily be luxuriant is more remarkable because the converse is far from true.
Mr. Burchell observed to me that when entering Brazil, nothing struck him more forcibly than the splendid tour of the South American vegetation contrasted with that of South Africa, together with the absence of all large quadrupeds. In his travels, he has suggested that the comparison of the respective weights (if there were sufficient data) of an equal number of the largest herbivorous quadrupeds of each country would be extremely curious. If we take on the one side, the elephants, hippopotamus, giraffe, bos caffer, elan, five species of rhinoceros; and on the American side, two tapirs, the guanaco, three deer, the vicuna, peccary, capybara (after which we must choose from the monkeys to complete the number), and then place these two groups alongside each other, it is not easy to conceive ranks more disproportionate in size.
After the above facts, we are compelled to conclude, against the anterior probability that among the Mammalia there exists no close relation between the bulk of the species, and the quantity of the vegetation in the countries which they inhabit.
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