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Wild Animals - The Lion

( Originally Published 1894 )



The lion is known as the King of Beasts; though modern travellers have done much to rob him of the homage that he once received. Like a human being who has been too much lionized, he suffers from the detractions which are excited by his pre-eminence. He is found chiefly in India and Africa, though he once had a more extended range. He was well known to the Greeks, and appears in both their poetry and history.Homer celebrates him, and according to Herodotus he exploited himself by attacking the camels of the army of Xerxes. His noble appearance is said to be responsible for the popular ideal of his character, which travellers and naturalists declare to be minus the magnanimous and generous qualities with which it was at one time credited.

In judging of the lion's character it is important to remember that he belongs to the cat family, and that his virtues and vices are naturally of the cat kind "The lion seldom runs," says the author of " Tales of Animals." " He either walks or creeps, or, for a short distance, advances rapidly by great bounds. It is evident, therefore, that he must seize his prey by stealth; that he is not fitted for an open attack; and that his character is necessarily that of great power, united to considerable skill and cunning in its exercise." Again, the lion, as well as others of the cat tribe, takes his prey at night; and it is necessary, therefore, that he should have peculiar organs of vision. In all those animals which seek their food in the dark, the eye is usually of a large size, to admit a great number of rays. This peculiar kind of eye, therefore, is necessary to the Lion to perceive his prey, and he creeps towards it with a certainty which nothing but this distinct nocturnal vision could give." Men who hunt the lion in the daytime, when he is usually sleeping off the effects of a hearty meal, and who awaken him in a surprised and dazed condition when his cat-like eyes cannot bear the blaze of the sun, ought not to be surprised if he tries to postpone fighting until a more convenient season. Nor can he be said to be less noble because he only fights when it is necessary to procure food, to protect his young, and to defend himself. A veritable Ulysses among the beasts he is ready to fight if needs be, but unless urged by hunger, or attacked by the hunter, he does not seem to bear any particular malice against mankind.

" It is singular," says Sparrman, "that the lion, which, according to many, always kills his prey immediately if it belongs to the brute creation, is reported, frequently, although provoked, to content himself with merely wounding the human species; or, at least, to wait some time before he gives the fatal blow to the unhappy victim he has got under him. A farmer, who the year before had the misfortune to be a spectator of a lion seizing two of his oxen, at the very instant he had taken them out of the waggon, told me that they immediately fell down (lead upon the spot, close to each other; though, upon examining the carcasses afterwards, it appeared that their backs only had been broken. In several places through which I passed, they mentioned to me by name a father and his two sons, who were said to be still living, and who, being on foot near a river on their estate, in search of a lion, this latter had rushed out upon them, and thrown one of them under his feet. The two others, however, had time enough to shoot the lion dead upon the spot, which had lain almost across the youth, so nearly and dearly related to them, without having done him any particular hurt. I myself saw, near the upper part of Duyvenhoek River, an elderly Hottentot who, at that time (his wounds being still open), bore under one eye, and underneath his cheek bone the ghastly marks of the bite of a lion, which did not think it worth his while to give him any other chastisement for having, together with his master (whom I also .knew), and several other Christians, hunted him with great intrepidity, though without success. The conversation ran everywhere in this part of the country upon one Bota, a farmer and captain in the militia, who had lain for sometime under a lion, and had received several bruises from the beast, having been at the same time a good deal bitten by him in one arm, as a token to remember him by; but, upon the whole, had, in a manner, had his life given him by this noble animal. The man was said then to be living in the district of Artaquaskloof.

The following seems to show a curious power of reasoning on the part of the lion. "Diederik Muller, one of the most intrepid and successful of modern lion-hunters in South Africa, had;" says Sir William Jardine, " been out alone hunting in the wilds, when he came suddently upon a lion, which, instead of giving way, seemed disposed, from the angry attitude he assumed, to dispute with him the dominion of the desert. Diederik instantly alighted, and confident of his unerring aim levelled his gun at the forehead of the lion, who was couched in the act to spring, within fifteen paces of him; but at the moment the hunter fired, his horse, whose bridle was round his arm, started back and caused him to miss. The lion, bounded forward, but stopped within a few paces, confronting Diederik who stood defenceless, his gun discharged, arid his horse running off. The man and the beast stood looking at each other in the face for a short space. At length the lion moved backward as if to go away. Diederik began to load his gun, the lion looked over his shoulder, growled, and returned. Diederik stood still. The lion again moved cautiously off, and the Boer proceeded to load and ram down his bullet. The lion again looked back and growled angrily; and this occurred repeatedly, until the animal had got off to some distance when he took fairly to his heels and hounded away."

Whatever may be said of the lion's courage, there can be no doubt as to his strength. Burchell thus describes an encounter with a lion. "The day was exceedingly pleasant and not a cloud was to be seen. For a mile or two we travelled along the banks of the river, which in this part abounded in late mat-rushes. The dogs seemed much to enjoy prowling about and examining every rushy place, and at last met with some object among the rushes which caused them to set up a most vehement and determined barking. We explored the spot with caution as we suspected, from the peculiar tone of the bark, that it was what it proved to be-lions. Having encouraged the dogs to drive them out, a task which they performed with great willingness, we had a full view of art enormous black-maned lion and lioness. The latter was seen only for a minute, as she made her escape up the river under concealment of the rushes; but the lion came steadily forward, and stood still and looked at us. At this moment we felt our situation not free from danger, as the animal seemed preparing to spring upon us, and we were standing on the bank, at a distance of only a few yards from him, most of us being on foot, and unarmed, without any visible possibility of escaping. At this instant the dogs boldly flew in between us and the lion, and surrounding him, kept him at bay by their violent and resolute barking. The lion, conscious of his strength, remained unmoved at their noisy attempts and kept his head turned towards us. At one moment, the dogs perceiving his eye thus engaged, had advanced close to his feet, and seemed as if they would actually seize hold of him; but they paid dearly for their imprudence, far, without discomposing the majestic and steady attitude in which he stood fixed, he merely moved his paw, and the next instant I beheld two lying dead. In doing this he made so little exertion, that it was scarcely perceptible by what means they had been killed. We fired upon him, and one of the balls went through his side, just between the short ribs, but the animal still remained standing in the same position. We had now no doubt that he would spring upon us, but happily we were mistaken and were not sorry to see him move slowly away."

The Lion's many instances are on record of strong Affection attachments formed by the lion for his keeper, and for dogs or other animals which have been associated with him. A remarkable example of this kind is related, where a little dog, which had been thrown into a lion's den that he might be devoured, was not only spared by the noble animal, but became his companion and favourite. In a moment of irritation caused by long hunger, the dog, having snapped at the first morsels of food, received a blow from the lion which proved fatal. From that time the lion pined away, refused his food, and at length died, apparently of melancholy.

A carpenter was employed some years ago to do some repairs to the cage of a lion at a menagerie at Brussels. When the workman saw the lion he drew back' in terror. The keeper, on this, entered the cage and led the animal to the upper part of it, while the lower was refitting. He there amused himself for some time playing with the lion, and being wearied he fell asleep. The carpenter, having finished his work, called the keeper to inspect what he had done, but the keeper made no answer. Having repeatedly called in vain he became alarmed and proceeded to the upper part of the cage, where, looking through the bars, he saw the lion and the keeper lying side by side, and immediately uttered a loud cry. The lion started up and stared at the carpenter with an eye of fury, and then, placing his paw on the breast of his keeper, lay down to sleep again. The carpenter, terrified at what he saw, ran off to secure help, whereupon some of the attendants succeeded in arousing the keeper who, far from being disconcerted by the circumstances, took the paw of the lion and shook it gently in token of regard and the animal quietly returned with him to his former residence. M. Felix, the keeper of the animals at Paris, had charge of a lion which refused food, and became sullen and mopish during the temporary absence of M. Felix through illness, but who regained his spirits and showed every demonstration of joy upon the reappearance of M. Felix at his post of duty.

With so many authentic instances which can be cited of the amenability of the lion to kindly influences, the story of Androcles and the lion does not seem so improbable as it has been sometimes thought. The following is the story:-In the days of ancient Rome, a Roman governor treated one of his slaves or subjects, called Androcles, so cruelly that he ran away. To escape pursuit he fled to a desert and crept into a cave. What was his horror to find that this cave was a lion's den, and to see a large lion approach him. He expected instantly to be destroyed; but the lion, approaching Androcles, held up his paw or foot with a supplicating air. Androcles examined the lion's paw, and found a thorn in it which he drew out, and the lion, apparently relieved, fawned upon his benefactor as a dog does upon his master. After some time Androcles ventured back to the place where he lived before. He was discovered, taken up as a runaway slave, and condemned to be the prey of a wild beast. He was accordingly thrown into a place where a large lion, recently caught, was let in upon him, The lion came bounding toward Androcles, and the spectators expected to see the man instantly torn in pieces. What was their astonishment to see the lion approach him, and fawn before him like a dog who had found his master. It was the lion Androcies had met in the desert, and the grateful animal would not rend his benefactor.

Livingstone came to very close quarters with a lion on one occasion, the circumstances of which he thus narrates. "The Bakatla of the village Mabotsa, were much troubled by lions, which leaped into the cattle-pens by night and destroyed their cows. They even attacked the herds in open day. This was so unusual an occurrence that the people believed that they were bewitched, `given' as they said, into the power of the lions by a neighbouring tribe. They went once to attack the animals, but being rather a cowardly people compared to Bechuanas in general on such occasions, they returned without killing any. It is well known that if one in a troop of lions is killed, the others take the hint and leave that part of the country. So the next time the herds were attacked, I went with the people in order to encourage them to rid themselves of the annoyance by destroying one of the marauders. We found the lions on a small hill, about a quarter of a mile in length and covered with trees. A circle of men was formed round it, and they gradually closed tip, ascending pretty near to each other. Being down below on the plain with a native schoolmaster, named Mebalwe, I saw one of the lions sitting upon a piece of rock, within the now closed circle of men. Mebalwe fired at him before I could, and the ball struck the rock upon which the animal was sitting. He bit at the spot struck, as a dog does at a stick or a stone thrown at him, then, leaping away, broke through the opening circle and escaped unhurt. When the circle was reformed we saw two other lions in it, but we were afraid to fire lest we should strike the men; and they allowed the beasts to burst through also. If the Bakatli had acted according to the custom of the country, they would have speared the lions in their attempt to get out. Seeing that we could not get them to kill one of the lions, we bent our footsteps towards the village; in going round the end of the hill, however, I saw one of the beasts sitting on a piece of rock, as before, but this time he had a little bush in front. Being about thirty yards off, I took a good aim at his body through the bush, and fired both barrels into in. The men then called out: `He is shot! He is shot!' Others cried: `He has been shot by another man, too; let us go to him.' I did not see anyone else shoot at him, but I saw the lion's tail erected in anger behind the bush, and turning to the people, said : `Stop a little till I load again.' When in the act of ramming down the bullets I heard a shout. Starting, and looking half round, I saw the lion just in the act of springing upon me. I was upon a little height. He caught my shoulder as he sprang and we both came to the ground below together. Growling horribly, close to my ear, he shook me as a terrier dog does a rat. The shock produced a stupor, similar to that which seems to be felt by a mouse after the first shake of a cat. It caused a sort of dreaminess, in which there was no sense of pain or feeling of terror, though quite conscious of all that was happening. It was like what patients partially under the influence of chloroform describe, who see all the operation but feel not the knife. This singular condition was not the result of any mental process. The shake annihilated fear, and allowed no sense of horror in looking round at the beast. This peculiar state is probably produced in all animals killed by the carnivora; and, if so, is a merciful provision by our benevolent Creator for lessening the pain of death. Turning round to relieve myself of the weight, as he had one paw on the back of my head, I saw his eyes directed to Mebalwe, who was trying to shoot him at a distance of ten or fifteen yards. His gun, a flint one, missed fire in both barrels. The lion immediately left; me and attacking Mebalwe bit his thigh. Another man, whose life I had saved before, after he had been tossed by a buffalo, attempted to spear the lion while he was biting Mebalwe. He left Mebalwe and caught this man by the shoulder; but at that moment the bullets he had received took effect, and he fell down dead. The whole was the work of a few moments, and must have been his paroxysm of dying rage. In order to take out the charm from him, the Bakatla, on the following day, made a huge bonfire over the carcass, which was declared to be the largest lion they had ever seen. Besides crunching the bone into splinters, he left eleven teeth wounds on the upper part of my arm. A wound from this animal's tooth resembles a gunshot wound. It is generally followed by a great deal of sloughing and discharge, and pains are felt in the part periodically ever after. I had on a tartan jacket on the occasion, and I believe that it wiped off all the virus from the teeth that pierced the flesh; for my two companions in this affray have both suffered from the peculiar pains, while I have escaped with only the inconvenience of a false joint in my limb."

Professor Lichtenstein, in his "Travels" gives a thrilling story of a Boer's adventure with a lion, which he had from the lips of the Boer himself. " It is now," said the colonist, "more than two years since, in the very place where we stand, I ventured to take one of the most daring shots that ever was hazarded. My wife was sitting within the house near the door, the children were playing about her, and I was without, near the house, busied in doing something to a waggon, when suddenly, though it was mid-day, an enormous lion appeared, came up and laid himself quietly down in the shade upon the very threshold of the door. My wife, either frozen with fear, or aware of the danger of attempting to fly, remained motionless in her place, while the children took refuge in her arms. The cry , they uttered attracted my attention, and I hastened towards the door, but my astonishment may well be conceived when I found the entrance to it barred in such a way. Although , the animal had not seen me, unarmed as I was escape seemed impossible, yet I glided gently, scarcely knowing what I meant to do, to the side of the house, up to the window of my chamber, where I knew my loaded gun was standing. By a most happy chance, I had set it into the corner close by the window, so that I could reach it with my hand; for, as you may perceive, the opening is too small to admit of my having got in, and still more fortunately, the door of the room was open, so that I could see the whole danger of the scene. The lion was beginning to move. There was no longer any time to think; I called softly to the mother not to be alarmed, and invoking the name of the Lord, fired my piece. The ball passed directly over the hair of my boy's head and lodged in the forehead of the lion, immediately above his eyes and stretched him on the ground, so that he never stirred more." "Indeed," says Professor Lichtenstein, " we all shuddered as we listened to this relation. Never, as he himself observed, was a more daring attempt hazarded. Had he failed in his aim, mother and children were all inevitably lost; if the boy had moved he had been struck; the least turn in the lion and the shot had not been mortal to him; and to consummate the whole, the head of the creature was in some sort protected by the door-post."

In Phillips's "Researches in South Africa.," the following account is given of the adventures of a traveller which we quote from Jardine's Naturalists' Library collated with other versions. "Our waggons, which were obliged to take a circuitous route, arrived at last, and we pitched our tent a musket-shot from the kraal, and, after having arranged everything, went to rest, but were soon disturbed; for, about midnight the cattle and horses, which were standing between the waggons, began to start and run, and one of the drivers to shout, on which every one ran out of the tent with his gun. About thirty paces from the tent stood a lion, which, on seeing us, walked very deliberately about thirty paces farther, behind a small thornbush, carrying something with him, which I took to be a young ox. We fired more than sixty shots at that bush, without perceiving any movement. The south-east wind blew strong, the sky was clear, and the moon shone very bright, so that we could perceive everything at that distance. After the cattle had been quieted again, and I had looked over everything, I missed the sentry from before the tent, Jan Smit, from Antwerp. We called as loudly as possible, but in vain; nobody answered, from which I concluded that the lion had carried him off. Three or four men then advanced very cautiously to the bush, which stood right opposite the door of the tent, to see if they could discover anything of the man, but returned helter-skelter; for the lion, who was there still, rose up, and began to roar. They found there the musket of the sentry, which was cocked, and also his cap and shoes. We fired again about a hundred shots at the bush, without perceiving anything of the lion, from which we concluded that he was killed, or had run away. This induced the marksman of our company to go and see if he was still there or not, taking with him a firebrand. As soon as he approached the bush, the lion roared terribly, and leapt at him; on which he threw the firebrand at him, and the other people having fired about ten shots at him, he retired directly to his former place behind that bush. The firebrand which he had thrown at the lion had fallen in the midst of the bush, and, favoured by the strong south-east wind, it began to burn with a great flame, so that we could see very clearly into and through it. We continued our firing into it until the night passed away, and the day began to break, when seven men were posted on the farthest waggons to watch him, and to take aim at him if lie should come out. At last, before it became quite light, he walked up the hill, with the man in his mouth, when about forty shots were fired without hitting him, although some were very near. Every time this happened, he turned round towards the tent, and carne roaring towards us; and, I am of opinion, that if he had been hit, he would. have rushed on the people and the tent. When it became broad daylight, we perceived, by the blood, and a piece of the clothes of the man, that the lion had taken him away." "For the satisfaction of the curious," says Sir William Jardine, "it may be mentioned, that he was followed, and killed in the forenoon, over the mangled remains of the unfortunate sentinel."

Mr. Gordon Cumming gives an even more thrilling account of a similar adventure of his experience. He says:-"About three hours after the sun went down, I called to my men to come and take their coffee and supper which was ready for them at my fire; and after supper, three of them returned before their comrades to their own fireside and lay down .... In a few minutes an ox came out by the gate of the kraal and walked round the back of it. Hendrick got up and drove him again and then went back to his fireside and lay down. Hendrick and Ruyter lay on one side of the fire under one blanket and John Stofolus lay on the other .... Suddenly the appalling and murderous voice of an angry bloodthirsty lion, within a few yards of us, burst upon my ear, followed by the shrieking of the Hottentots. Again and again the murderous roar of the attack was repeated. We heard John and Ruyter shriek, `the Lion! the Lion! . . .' Next instant John Stofolus rushed into the midst of us almost speechless with fear and terror, and eyes bursting from their sockets, and shrieked out, 'the lion! the lion! He has got Hendrick, he dragged him away from the fire beside me. I struck him with the burning brands upon his head, but he would not let go his hold. Hendrick is dead! O God! Hiendrick is dead! Let us take fire and seek him . . ..' It appeared that when the unfortunate Hendrick rose to drive in the ox, the lion had watched him to his fireside, and he had scarcely lain down, when the brute sprang upon him and Ruyter (for both lay under one blanket) with his appalling murderous roar, and roaring as he lay, grappled him with his fearful claws and kept biting him on the breast and shoulder, all the while feeling for his neck; having got hold of which, he at once dragged him away backwards round the bush into the dense shade .... The next morning, just as the day began to dawn we heard the lion dragging something up the river side under cover of the bank. We drove the cattle out of the kraal and then proceeded to inspect the scene of the night's awful tragedy. In the hollow where the lion had lain, consuming his prey, we found one leg of the unfortunate Hendrick, bitten off below the knee, the shoe still on the foot, the grass and bushes were all stained with his blood, and fragments of his pea-coat lay around. Hendrick was by far the best man, I had about my waggons ... his loss to us all was very serious."

In the southern part of Africa, where the Hottentots live, lions were very common, and the adventures of the inhabitants with them very frequent. One evening a Hottentot saw that he was pursued by a lion. He was very much alarmed, and devised the following means of escape. He went to the edge of a precipice, and placed himself a little below it. He then put his cloak and hat on a stick, and elevated them over his head, giving them a gentle motion. The lion came crouching along, and, mistaking the cloak and hat for the man, as the Hottentot intended he should do, he sprang upon them with a swift leap, and, passing over the head of the Hottentot, was plunged headlong down the precipice.

In the "Miscellany of Natural History," from which several of these anecdotes are taken there is a story illustrating the way in which old instincts will show themselves in the presence of new opportunities. On the evening of the 20th October 1816, a lioness made her escape from a travelling menagerie which was drawn up on the road-side, about seven miles from the town of Salisbury. It was about eight o'clock, and quite dark, and the Exeter mail was passing when the animal suddenly darted forward, and springing at the throat of the off-leader, fastened the talons of her fore-feet on each side of the neck, close to the horse's head,whilethose of the hind -feet were forced into the chest. In this situation she hung, while the blood streamed from the agonized creature, as if a vein had been opened by a lancet. It may be easily supposed, that the alarm excited by this encounter, was very great. Two inside passengers instantly dashed out of the coach and fled to a house on the roadside. The keeper of the caravan came, and immediately set a large Newfoundland dog on the animal. The lioness, on finding herself seized by the leg, quitted the horse, and turned upon the dog, which the spectators expected would very soon become the victim of her fury; but she was contented with giving him only a slight punishment, and on hearing the voice of her keeper, retired under a neighbouring straw rick, and gently allowed herself to be secured. "This anecdote," says the writer, "is remarkably characteristic, the moment that the animal found herself at liberty, and an object of prey presented itself, all her original propensities, hitherto restrained, were instantly called into action; but no sooner did the voice of her keeper reach her ears, than the force of long habit prevailed, she became calm, and allowed herself to be bound, and led again to her den."



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