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The Story Of Wild Animals:
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 Story Of The Rhinoceros

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Story Of The Rhinoceros

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

The rhinoceros is favorite game both in India and Africa. It has a ferocious disposition and is hard to kill. The easiest and least dangerous method is for the hunter to conceal himself and shoot it when it comes to drink at the pool. The true sportsman prefers to hunt it on horseback with dogs.

As the eyes of the rhinoceros are very small, it seldom turns its head and therefore sees nothing but what is before it. It is to this that it owes its death, and never escapes if there be so much plain as to enable the horses of the hunters to get before it. Its pride and fury then makes it lay aside all thoughts of escaping, except by victory over its enemy. For a moment it stands at bay; then at a start runs straight forward at the horse which is nearest. The rider easily avoids the attack by turning short to one side. This is the fatal instant; a naked man who is mounted behind the principal horseman, drops off the horse, and, unseen by the rhinoceros, gives it, with a sword, a stroke across the tendon of the heel, which renders it incapable either of flight or resistance.

Several travelers have mentioned that there are certain birds which constantly attend the rhinoceros, and give him warning of approaching danger. Their accounts were either received with silent contempt, or treated with open ridicule, as preposterous extensions of the traveler's privilege of romancing. I can bear witness to the truth of these reports. Once while hunting the rhinoceros in Africa, I saw a huge female lying in the jungle asleep. My first thought was to photograph her and then attack her. T began to crawl toward her, but before I could reach the proper distance several rhinoceros-birds, by which she was attended, warned her of the impending danger, by sticking their bills into her ear, and uttering their harsh, grating cry. Thus aroused, she suddenly sprang to her feet, and crashed away through the jungle at a rapid trot, and I saw no more of her.

These rhinoceros-birds are constant attendants upon the hippopotamus and the four varieties of rhinoceros, their object being to feed upon the ticks and other parasitic insects that swarm upon these animals. They are of a grayish color, and are nearly as large as a common thrush; their voice is very similar to that of the mistletoe-thrush. Many a time have these ever-watchful birds disappointed me in my stalk, and tempted me to invoke an anathema upon their devoted heads. They are the best friends the rhinoceros has, and rarely fail to awaken him, even in his soundest nap. "Chukuroo" perfectly understands their warning, and springing to his feet, he generally first looks about him in every direction, after which he invariably makes of.

Next to the elephant in size, comes the rhinoceros, which with the hippopotamus, lays claim to bulk and ferocity unequalled by any other member of the animal kingdom. The rhinoceros is found in the rivers of Central Africa and Southern Asia. It can only live in tropical climates.

The length of the rhinoceros is usually about twelve feet, and this is also nearly the girth of its body. The skin, which is of a blackish color, is disposed, about the neck, into large plaits or folds. A fold of the same kind passes from the shoulders to the fore legs; another from the hind part of the back to the thighs. The skin is naked, rough, and covered with a kind of tubercles, or large callous granulations. Between the folds, and under the belly, it is soft, and of a light rose-color. The horns are composed of a closely-packed mass of horn fibers, growing from the skin, and having no connection with the bones of the skull, although there are prominences on the latter beneath each horn. Although the African species are entirely dependent on their enormous horns, as weapons of offense and defense, the Asiatic kinds, in which the horns are smaller, seem to rely chiefly upon their sharply-pointed lower tusks, which are capable of inflicting terrific gashes. All are mainly abroad at night, and while some resemble the tapirs in frequenting tall grass-jungles and swampy districts, others seem to prefer more or less open plains. Their food is entirely vegetable; but whereas some species live almost exclusively on grass, the food of others consists mainly of twigs and small boughs of trees. At the present day these animals are restricted to South-Eastern Asia and Africa.

The single-horned rhinoceros is not exceeded in size by any land animal except the elephant, and in strength and power it gives place to none. Its nose is armed with a formidable weapon, a hard and solid horn, sometimes more than three feet in length, and, at the base, eighteen inches in circumference; and with this it is able to defend itself against the attack of every ferocious animal.

The body of the rhinoceros is defended by a skin so hard as to be almost impenetrable, except in the under parts, by either knife or spear.

Some hunters have created the impression that the hide of the rhinoceros will turn a leaden bullet and sometimes an iron one. This is a popular error, for a common leaden ball will pierce the hide at a distance of thirty or forty paces, especially if a double charge of powder be used, which is the custom with all rhinoceros hunters. The most deadly aim is just behind the shoulder. The skull is too thick and the brain pan too small for a successful shot at the head.

I once had an excellent opportunity to observe the fighting quality of the rhinoceros in conflict with other animals. It was in the province of Oude. I had become separated from my men and had lost my bearings. Night overtook me, and I decided to camp on the banks of a lagoon beneath a huge peepul tree. How long I had slept, I know not, but the moon was almost perpendicular when I awoke, and it was as bright as day. A sudden harsh scream was the cause of my rousing up. I knew it well.

It was the trumpet of an elephant!

Instinctively I bounded to my feet, and looked around me in consternation. I was in the midst of a herd of wild elephants!

The danger of my position flashed on me in an instant. The wild elephant is a dangerous brute at the best of times, but at night, and in herds, he tramples over everything, and feels more at home and free from danger than in the day, apparently.

But these elephants did not seem to be aware of my presence. They were evidently excited about. something else, and had not observed me, asleep in the shadow of the peepul.

They were rushing about in the open ground, most of those I could see being females, as I knew by the absence of the tusks, and some sort of contest seemed to be going on among them. What it was, I could not see at first.

At last a chorus of trumpetings and vicious pig-like squeals broke out from the center of the moving mass, and I saw the female elephants scatter right and left in dismay.

Then I discerned a terrible conflict. A huge bull elephant rushed for-ward, with his trunk curled up tightly behind the long formidable tusks out of harm's way, striving to pierce a strange antagonist.

A long, low, uncouth-looking beast, of some five feet in height at the shoulder, and shaped much like an immense hog, was running full tilt at the old elephant.

The short, upright horn on the snout, the contour of the animal, and the loose folds of skin that covered his ribs, proclaimed that most dangerous of all animals, the Indian rhinoceros.

If it had been alone, and I had met it, I should have counted myself lost, such is the sullen and vindictive nature of this horrible beast. It is -the only animal known that will attack man habitually, wherever met, and all the other wild beasts of India fear and avoid it.

But for the present the attention of the rhinoceros was fully engaged. Besides the old bull now charging at him, another younger one was skulking around to take him in the rear, and a third lay close by, with his entrails gushing out of a frightful wound inflicted by the deadly horn. As I looked, the old bull elephant made his charge, that seemed as if it would carry everything before it.

But the rhinoceros, with surprising agility for a creature of such unwieldy appearance, leaped actively to one side, and, running around, tried hard to get in at the unprotected flank of the elephant. The latter as sharply threw his hind-quarters around, and received the pig-like brute on his tusks. But, deprived of the impetus of his charge, he was unable to pierce the tough hide of the rhinoceros, which is thick enough to turn a leaden bullet at close. quarters.

Then the two stood head to head for some minutes, the rhinoceros striving to wriggle his way between the forelegs of the elephant, to use his horn with effect. The elephant, on his part, strove hard to pin the rhinoceros to the earth, but in vain.

Presently I noticed the second elephant. He was charging, and close to the rhinoceros. The latter saw him, too, and suddenly broke away from his first antagonist, rushing to meet the second. The young bull charged gallantly, but he was not up to the tricks of his wily adversary. The rhinoceros swerved, as he came, and the excited elephant missed his mark, lumbering past in vain effort. Not so the rhinoceros. As quick as thought he rushed in at the unguarded side of his heedless foe, and I could see him working away at the elephant's side, like a pig rooting. The elephant gave a hoarse roar of pain, and tried to turn, but the active rhinoceros was too quick for him, and he fell down, helpless and dying.

And now came the turn of the old bull. Cautious and wary, he watched his opportunity, and rushed at the rhinoceros from the side. The latter, owing to his engagement with his other enemy, and his somewhat defective vision, did not see him till too late.

The great bull elephant thundered on like an avalanche, and in an instant more the terrible tusks, nearly seven feet in length in the clear, as I judged, were buried in the side of the redoubtable rhinoceros.

A shrill squeal of pain from the latter, and he tried in vain to extricate himself. The battle was over. He had slain two elephants, and died game himself.

I cannot tell you the absorbing interest with which I had watched this curious conflict. True I was an unwilling spectator, for I did not dare to move out of the shadow of the tree, for fear of attracting notice. Now, however, an idea struck me.

Excited and furious as the old bull was; it was probable that the flush of his victory might make him tenfold more dangerous to me.

The battle had moved so close to me, during the vicissitudes of its varying fortune, that the last elephant, in his fall, had almost brushed the foliage of a bush I stood behind. My resolution was taken in an instant.

I must kill the old bull, or be killed myself almost inevitably. He was not ten feet from me, and striving to pull clear from the body of the rhinoceros, which he had pinned into the very ground.

I ran round the fallen elephant, and, before he could draw clear, I stood almost touching his temple with my rifle.

One flash! It was enough! Struck through the brain, the old bull dropped instantaneously, and I was safe!

The female elephants, panic-stricken at the noise and the flash, scattered in all directions in dismay.

In five minutes I was alone!

In Southeastern Africa both species of rhinoceros generally leave their lairs about four o'clock in the afternoon, or, in districts where there are many human beings, somewhat later. They commence feeding in the direction of their drinking places, to which they travel by regular beaten paths, and arrive at the same somewhere about dark. If the drinking place is a mudhole they frequently refresh themselves with a roll, after drinking their fill. They then start for their favorite thorn feeding grounds, where they remain till daybreak, when they generally again drink. At an earlier or later hour after this, the time being to some extent dependent on the freedom of the district from human intrusion, they retire to their sleeping places, which they reach at any rate before the heat of the day. The lair is always in an extremely sheltered and deeply-shaded spot, and so heavily do they slumber that a practiced stalker could almost touch them with the muzzle of a gun, unless they are awakened by the birds which always accompany them.

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