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Pumas

( Originally Published 1851 )



The above engraving is a portrait of one of the most beautiful of the cat tribe in the Zoological Gardens in London. This creature appears perfectly mild and playful; sleeping, for the most part, in the day ; but sometimes rising when interrupted by a stranger, and occasionally knocking about a little ball in its cage.

The puma is a native of the New World, and is principally found in Paraguay, Brazil, and Guiana. It is, however, often seen in the United States; but there, as in every other part of the world, civilisation daily lessens the range of those animals which live by the destruction of others. The puma, in its natural state, is a sanguinary creature, at-tacking the smaller quadrupeds, and often destroying more than can be necessary for the satisfaction of his appetite. He is alarmed at the approach of men or dogs, and flies to the woods, where he mounts trees with great ease. He belongs to the same division of cats as the lion, by the essential character of the unspotted color of his skin, which is of a reddish-yellow, or silvery-fawn; but, unlike the lion, he is without a mane, and the tail has no tuft. The average length of the puma is about four feet, and its height about two feet. It stands lower on the legs than the lion, and the head is round and small.

The puma, which was long called the American lion, though a large animal, is not an object of great dread to the natives of the regions to which he belongs. He is easily tamed. D' Azara, the naturalist, had one which was as sensible to caresses as the common cat; and Mr. Kean, the tragedian, had a domesticated pmna, which was much attached to him. Although there have been instances of the puma attacking, and even destroying the human species, in South America they have an instinctive dread of any encounter of this nature. Capt. Head, in his " Journey across the Pampas," has the fol-lowing interesting anecdote of the puma, which, in common with other travellers, he incorrectly calls the lion:

" 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 any loose horse to approach them, they, even when young, ran from me, though little of my figure was visible; and when one saw them all enjoying themselves in such full liberty, it was at first not pleasing to observe that one's appearance was every where 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 lion actually standing on his poncho; and, perhaps, the animal was equally astonished to find himself in the immediate preBence 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 lion 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 lion tacitly acknowledged his supremacy, and walked off."

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