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( Originally Published 1894 )
The Puma, or American lion, is known by several names. It is sometimes called a panther, or colloquially a "painter", and sometimes a cougar. It resembles the lioness somewhat in appearance, especially about the head, though it is smaller and less powerful. Its length varies from four feet to four feet and a half, and its colour is that of the fox, graduating in parts to white. Like the lion it inhabits plains rather than forests;-in the marshy districts, and on the borders of rivers in the south, and in the swamps and prairies of the northern districts. It lives on such wild and domestic animals as come within its reach, lying at full length upon the lower branches of trees, and dropping upon its victims as they pass beneath. Deer and cattle of all kinds it attacks, and, not content with killing enough for immediate purposes, destroys large numbers, sucking small quantities of blood from each. According to Sir William Jardine it is exceedingly destructive among sheep and has been known to kill fifty in one night. The Puma is, however, easily tamed and becomes very docile under kindly treatment. Edward Kean kept a tame one which followed him about like a dog and was as playful as a kitten.
" Molina and D'Azara say," says Sir William Jardine, "that the puma will flee from men, and that its timidity renders its pursuit generally free from danger." The following incident given by Sir William Jardine and at greater length by Captain Brown, shows that this is not always the case. According to these accounts, two hunters visited the Katskills in pursuit of game, each armed with a gun and accompanied by a dog. They agreed to follow contrary directions round the base of a hill, and to join each other immediately upon hearing the report of a gun. Shortly after parting, one of the friends heard the gun of his comrade and hastening to his assistance came first upon the body of his friend's dog, torn and lacerated; proceeding further, his attention was attracted by the growl of a wild animal, and looking up, he discovered a large puma crouching over the body of his friend, upon the branch of a tree. The animal glared at him, and he, knowing the rapidity of the Puma's movements, immediately raised his gun and fired, whereupon the puma rolled over on to the ground with his prey. The dog flew at the infuriated beast, but one blow from the puma's paw silenced him for ever. Seeing that his comrade was dead the hunter left the scene in search of assistance, upon securing which, he returned to find the puma dead, beside the two dogs and the hunter whom he had killed.
Captain Head, in his "Journey Across the Pampas " says:-" The fear which all wild animals in America have of man is very singularly seen in the Pampas. I often rode towards the ostriches and zamas, crouching under the opposite side of my horse's neck; but I always found that, although they would allow my loose horse to approach them, they, even when young, ran from me, though little of my figure was visible; and when I saw them all enjoying themselves in such full liberty, it was at first not pleasing to observe that one's appearance was everywhere a signal to them that they should fly from their enemy. Yet it is by this fear that man hath dominion over the beasts of the field,' and there is no animal in South America that does not acknowledge this instinctive feeling. As a singular proof of the above, and of the difference between the wild beasts of America and of the old world, I will venture to relate a circumstance which a man sincerely assured me had happened to him in South America:-He was trying to shoot some wild ducks, and, in order to approach them unperceived, he put the corner of his poncho (which is a sort of long narrow blanket) over his head, and crawling along the ground upon his hands and knees, the poncho not only covered his body, but trailed along the ground behind him. As he was thus creeping by a large bush of reeds, he heard a loud, sudden noise, between a bark and a roar: he felt something heavy strike his feet, and, instantly jumping up, he saw, to his astonishment, a large puma actually standing on his poncho; and, perhaps, the animal was equally astonished to find himself in the immediate presence of so athletic a man. The man told me he was unwilling to fire, as his gun was loaded with very small shot; and he therefore remained motionless, the puma standing on his poncho for many seconds; at last the creature turned his head, and walking very slowly away about ten yards, he stopped, and turned again: the man still maintained his ground, upon which the puma tacitly acknowledged his supremacy, and walked off."