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Hunting The Zebra

( Originally Published 1851 )



There are but three animals of the horse. The horse, which is the most stately and courageous; the ass which is the most patient and humble; and the zebra, which is the most beautiful, but at the same time, the wildest animal in nature. Nothing can exceed the delicate regularity of this creature's color, or the lustrous smoothness of its skin; but on the other hand, nothing can be more timid or more untameable.

It is chiefly a native of the southern parts of Africa; and there are whole herds of them often seen feeding in those extensive plains that lie towards the Cape of Good Hope. However, their watchfulness is such, that they will suffer nothing to come near them, and their swiftness so great, that they readily leave every pursuer far behind. The Zebra in shape rather resembles the mule, than the horse or the ass. It is rather less than the former, and yet larger than the latter. Its ears are not so long as those of the ass, and yet not so small as in the horse kind. Like the ass, its head is large, its back straight, its legs finely placed, and its tail tufted at the end; like the horse its skin is smooth and close, and its hind quarters round and fleshy. But its greatest beauty lies in the amazing regularity and elegance of its colors. In the male, they are white and brown; in the female, white and black. These colors are disposed in alternate stripes over the whole body, and with such exactness and symmetry, that one would think Nature had employed the rule and compass to paint them. These stripes which like so many ribands are laid all over its body, are narrow, parallel, and exactly separated from each other. It is not here as in other party coloured animais, where the tints are blended into each other; every stripe here is perfectly distinct, and preserves its color round the body or the limb, without any diminution. In this manner are the head, the body, the thighs, the legs, and even the tail and the ears, beautifully streaked, so that at a little distance one would be apt to suppose that the animal was dressed out by art, and not thus admirably adorned by nature.

In the male zebra, the head is striped with fine bands of black and white, which in a manner centre in the forehead. The ears are variegated with a white and dusky brown. The neck has broad stripes of the same dark brown running round it, leaving narrow white stripes between.

M. Le Vaillant having fallen in with a herd of these animals during his second journey in Africa, thus describes his pursuit of one :" A female alone, either less frightened, or too much fatigued to ascend the height, quitted the herd, and continued her course through the valley. Hitherto I had kept in my dogs, though with difficulty; but when the animal was near enough to afford a chase, I slipped them, and they soon came up with her: Jager, particularly, was so near, that from time to time, he fixed his teeth in her legs and thighs; and, as he was the stoutest and strongest of my pack, at every bite he brought away flesh or skin. Young Vander, Westhuysen, and I, pursued the chase on horseback, followed by my Hottentots on foot. At length we surrounded the animal; and, throwing rope with a slip knot over her, terminated the chase."

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