by Samuel White Baker
Real Cost of Land - Want of Communication - Coffee-planting - Comparison between French and English Settlers - Landslips - Forest-clearing - Manuring - The Coffee Bug - Rats - Fatted Stock - Suggestions for Sheep-farming - Attack of a Leopard - Leopards and Chetahs - Boy Devoured - Traps - Musk Cats and the Mongoose - Vermin of Ceylon.
What is the government price of land in Ceylon? and what is the real cost of the land? These are two questions which should be considered separately, and with grave attention by the intending settler or capitalist.
The upset price of government land is twenty shillings per acre; thus, the inexperienced purchaser is very apt to be led away by the apparently low sum per acre into a purchase of great extent. The question of the real cost will then be solved at his expense. There are few colonies belonging to Great Britain where the government price of land is so high, compared to the value of the natural productions of the soil.
The staple commodity of Ceylon being coffee, I will assume that a purchase is concluded with the government for one thousand acres of land, at the upset price of twenty shillings per acre. What has the purchaser obtained for this sum? One thousand acres of dense forest, to which there is no road. The one thousand pounds passes into the government chest, and the purchaser is no longer thought of; he is left to shift for himself and to make the most of his bad bargain.
He is, therefore, in this position: He has parted with one thousand pounds for a similar number of acres of land, which will not yield him one penny in any shape until he has cleared it from forest. This he immediately commences by giving out contracts, and the forest is cleared, lopped and burnt. The ground is then planted with coffee and the planter has to wait three years for a return. By the time of full bearing the whole cost of felling, burning, planting and cleaning will be about eight pounds per acre; this, in addition to the prime cost of the land, and about two thousand pounds expended in buildings, machinery etc., etc., will bring the price of the land, when in a yielding condition, to eleven pounds an acre at the lowest calculation. Thus before his land yields him one fraction, he will have invested eleven thousand pounds, if he clears the whole of his purchase. Many persons lose sight of this necessary outlay when first purchasing their land, and subsequently discover to their cost that their capital is insufficient to bring the estate into cultivation.
Then comes the question of a road. The government will give him no assistance; accordingly, the whole of his crop must be conveyed on coolies' heads along an arduous path to the nearest highway, perhaps fifteen miles distant. Even this rough path of fifteen miles the planter must form at his own expense.
Considering the risks that are always attendant upon agricultural pursuits, and especially upon coffee-planting, the price of rough land must be acknowledged as absurdly high under the present conditions of sales. There is a great medium to be observed, however, in the sales of crown land; too low a price is even a greater evil than too high a rate, as it is apt to encourage speculators in land, who do much injury to a colony by locking up large tracts in an uncultivated state, to take the chance of a future rise in the price.
This evil might easily be avoided by retaining the present bona fide price of the land per acre, qualified by an arrangement that one-half of the purchase money should be expended in the formation of roads from the land in question. This would be of immense assistance to the planters, especially in a populous planting neighborhood, where the purchases of land were large and numerous, in which case the aggregate sum would be sufficient to form a carriage road to the main highway, which might be kept in repair by a slight toll. An arrangement of this kind is not only fair to the planters, but would be ultimately equally beneficial to the government. Every fresh sale of land would ensure either a new road or the improvement of an old one; and the country would be opened up through the most remote districts. This very fact of good communication would expedite the sales of crown lands, which are now valueless from their isolated position.
Coffee-planting in Ceylon has passed through the various stages inseparable from every "mania."
In the early days of our possession, the Kandian district was little known, and sanguine imaginations painted the hidden prospect in their ideal colors, expecting that a trace once opened to the interior would be the road to fortune.
How these golden expectations have been disappointed the broken fortunes of many enterprising planters can explain.
The protective duty being withdrawn, a competition with foreign coffee at once reduced the splendid prices of olden times to a more moderate standard, and took forty per cent. out of the pockets of the planters. Coffee, which in those days brought from one hundred shillings to one hundred and forty shillings per hundred-weight, is now reduced to from sixty shillings to eighty shillings.
This sudden reduction created an equally sudden panic among the planters, many of whom were men of straw, who had rushed to Ceylon at the first cry of coffee "fortunes," and who had embarked on an extensive scale with borrowed capital. These were the first to smash. In those days the expenses of bringing land into cultivation were more than double the present rate, and, the cultivation of coffee not being so well understood, the produce per acre was comparatively small. This combination of untoward circumstances was sufficient cause for the alarm which ensued, and estates were thrust into the market and knocked down for whatever could be realized. Mercantile houses were dragged down into the general ruin, and a dark cloud settled over the Cinnamon isle.
As the after effects of a "hurricane" are a more healthy atmosphere and an increased vigor in all vegetation, so are the usual sequels to a panic in the commercial world. Things are brought down to their real value and level; men of straw are swept away, and affairs are commenced anew upon a sound and steady basis. Capital is invested with caution, and improvements are entered upon step by step, until success is assured.
The reduction in the price of coffee was accordingly met by a corresponding system of expenditure and by an improved state of cultivation; and at the present time the agricultural prospects of the colony are in a more healthy state than they have ever been since the commencement of coffee cultivation.
There is no longer any doubt that a coffee estate in a good situation in Ceylon will pay a large interest for the capital invested, and will ultimately enrich the proprietor, provided that he has his own capital to work his estate, that he gives his own personal superintendence and that he understands the management. These are the usual conditions of success in most affairs; but a coffee-estate is not unfrequently abused for not paying when it is worked with borrowed capital at a high rate of interest under questionable superintendence.
It is a difficult thing to define the amount which constitutes a "fortune:" that which is enough for one man is a pittance for another; but one thing is certain, that, no matter how small his first capital, the coffee-planter hopes to make his "fortune."
Now, even allowing a net profit of twenty per cent. per annum on the capital invested, it must take at least ten years to add double the amount to the first capital, allowing no increase to the spare capital required for working the estate. A rapid fortune can never be made by working a coffee estate. Years of patient industry and toil, chequered by many disappointments, may eventually reward the proprietor; but it will be at a time of life when a long residence in the tropics will have given him a distaste for the chilly atmosphere of old England; his early friends will have been scattered abroad, and he will meet few faces to welcome him on his native shores. What cold is so severe as a cold reception? - no thermometer can mark the degree. No fortune, however large, can compensate for the loss of home, and friends, and early associations.
This feeling is peculiarly strong throughout the British nation. You cannot convince an English settler that he will be abroad for an indefinite number of years; the idea would be equivalent to transportation: he consoles himself with the hope that something will turn up to alter the apparent certainty of his exile; and in this hope, with his mind ever fixed upon his return, he does nothing for posterity in the colony. He rarely even plants a fruit tree, hoping that his stay will not allow him to gather from it. This accounts for the poverty of the gardens and enclosures around the houses of the English inhabitants, and the general dearth of any fruits worth eating.
How different is the appearance of French colonies, and how different are the feelings of the settler! The word "adieu" once spoken, he sighs an eternal farewell to the shores of "La belle France," and, with the natural light-heartedness of the nation, he settles cheerfully in a colony as his adopted country. He lays out his grounds with taste, and plants groves of exquisite fruit trees, whose produce will, he hopes, be tasted by his children and grandchildren. Accordingly, in a French colony there is a tropical beauty in the cultivated trees and flowers which is seldom seen in our possessions. The fruits are brought to perfection, as there is the same care taken in pruning and grafting the finest kinds as in our gardens in England.
A Frenchman is necessarily a better settler; everything is arranged for permanency, from the building of a house to the cultivation of an estate. He does not distress his land for immediate profit, but from the very commencement he adopts a system of the highest cultivation.
The latter is now acknowledged as the most remunerative course in all countries; and its good effects are already seen in Ceylon, where, for some years past, much attention has been devoted to manuring on coffee estates.
No crop has served to develop the natural poverty of the soil so much as coffee; and there is no doubt that, were it possible to procure manure in sufficient quantity, the holes should be well filled at the time of planting. This would give an increased vigor to the young plant that would bring the tree into bearing at an earlier date, as it would the sooner arrive at perfection.
The present system of coffee-planting on a good estate is particularly interesting. It has now been proved that the best elevation in Ceylon to combine fine quality with large crops is from twenty-five hundred to four thousand feet. At one time it was considered that the finest quality was produced at the highest range; but the estates at an elevation of five thousand feet are so long at arriving at perfection, and the crop produced is so small, that the lower elevation is preferred.
In the coffee districts of Ceylon there is little or no level ground to be obtained, and the steep sides of the hills offer many objections to cultivation. The soil, naturally light and poor, is washed by every shower, and the more soluble portions, together with the salts of the manure applied to the trees, are being continually robbed by the heavy rains. Thus it is next to impossible to keep an estate in a high state of cultivation, without an enormous expense in the constant application of manure.
Many estates are peculiarly subject to landslips, which are likewise produced by the violence of the rains. In these cases the destruction is frequently to a large extent; great rocks are detached from the summits of the hills, and sweep off whole lines of trees in their descent.
Wherever landslips are frequent, they may be taken as an evidence of a poor, clay subsoil. The rain soaks through the surface; and not being able to percolate through the clay with sufficient rapidity, it lodges between the two strata, loosening the upper surface, which slides from the greasy clay; launched, as it were, by its own gravity into the valley below.
This is the worst kind of soil for the coffee tree, whose long tap-root is ever seeking nourishment from beneath. On this soil it is very common to see a young plantation giving great promise; but as the trees increase in growth the tap-root reaches the clay subsoil and the plantation immediately falls off. The subsoil is of far more importance to the coffee-tree than the upper surface; the latter may be improved by manure, but if the former is bad there is no remedy.
The first thing to be considered being the soil, and the planter being satisfied with its quality, there is another item of equal importance to be taken into consideration when choosing a locality for a coffee estate. This is an extent of grazing land sufficient for the support of the cattle required for producing manure.
In a country with so large a proportion of forest as Ceylon, this is not always practicable; in which case land should be cleared and grass planted, as it is now proved that without manure an estate will never pay the proprietor.
The locality being fixed upon, the clearing of the forest is commenced. The felling is begun from the base of the hills, and the trees being cut about half through, are started in sections of about an acre at one fall. This is easily effected by felling some large tree from the top, which, falling upon its half-divided neighbor, carries everything before it like a pack of cards.
The number of acres required having been felled, the boughs and small branches are all lopped, and, together with the cleared underwood, they form a mass over the surface of the ground impervious to man or beast. This mass, exposed to a powerful sun, soon becomes sufficiently dry for burning, and, the time of a brisk breeze being selected,. the torch is applied.
The magnificent sight of so extensive a fire is succeeded by the desolate appearance of blackened stumps and smouldering trunks of trees: the whole of the branches and tinderwood having been swept away by the mighty blaze, the land is comparatively clear.
Holes two feet square are now dug in parallel lines at a distance of from six to eight feet apart throughout the estate, and advantage being taken of the wet season, they are planted with young coffee trees of about twelve inches high. Nothing is now required but to keep the land clean until the trees attain the height of four feet and come into bearing. This, at an elevation of three thousand feet, they generally do in two years and a half. The stem is then topped, to prevent its higher growth and to produce a large supply of lateral shoots.
The system of pruning is the same as with all fruit trees; the old wood being kept down to induce fruit bearing shoots, whose number must be proportioned to the strength of the tree.
The whole success of the estate now depends upon constant cleaning, plentiful manuring and careful pruning, with a due regard to a frugal expenditure and care in the up-keep of buildings, etc., etc. Much attention is also required in the management of the cattle on the estate, for without a proper system the amount of manure produced will be proportionately small. They should be bedded up every night hock deep with fresh litter and the manure thus formed should be allowed to remain in the shed until it is between two and three feet deep. It should then be treated on a "Geoffrey" pit (named after its inventor).
This is the simplest and most perfect method for working up the weeds from an estate, and effectually destroying their seeds at the same time that they are converted into manure.
A water-tight platform is formed of stucco - say forty feet square - surrounded by a wall two feet high, so as to form a tank. Below this is a sunken cistern -say eight feet square - into which the drainage would be conducted from the upper platform. In this cistern a force-pump is fitted, and the cistern is half filled with a solution of saltpetre and sal-ammoniac.
A layer of weeds and rubbish is now laid upon the platform for a depth of three feet, surmounted by a layer of good dung from the cattle sheds of one foot thick. These layers are continued alternately in the proportion of three to one of weeds, until the mass is piled to a height of twenty feet, the last layer being good dung. Upon this mass the contents of the cistern are pumped and evenly distributed by means of a spreader.
This mixture promotes the most rapid decomposition of vegetable matter, and, combining with the juices of the weeds and the salts of the dung, it drains evenly through the whole mass, forming a most perfect compost. The surplus moisture, upon reaching the bottom of the heap, drains from the slightly inclined platform into the receiving cistern, and is again pumped over the mass.
This is the cheapest and best way of making manure upon an estate, the cattle sheds and pits being arranged in the different localities most suitable for reducing the labor of transport.
The coffee berry, when ripe, is about the size of a cherry, and is shaped like a laurel berry. The flesh has a sweet but vapid taste, and encloses two seeds of coffee. These are carefully packed by nature in a double skin.
The cherry coffee is gathered by coolies at the rate of two bushels each per diem, and is cleared from the flesh by passing through a pulper, a machine consisting of cylindrical copper graters, which tear the flesh from the berry and leave the coffee in its second covering of parchment, The coffee is then exposed to a partial fermentation by being piled for some hours in a large heap. This has the effect of loosening the fleshy particles, which, by washing in a cistern of running water, are detached from the berry. It is then rendered perfectly dry in the sun or by means of artificially heated air; and, being packed in bags, it is forwarded to Colombo. Here, it is unpacked and sent to the mill, which, by means of heavy rollers, detaches the parchment and under silver skin, and leaves the grayish-blue berry in a state for market. The injured grains are sorted out by women, and the coffee is packed for the last time and shipped to England.
A good and well-managed estate should produce an average crop of ten hundredweight per acre, leaving a net profit of fifteen shillings per hundredweight under favorable circumstances. Unfortunately, it is next to impossible to make definite calculations in all agricultural pursuits: the inclemency of seasons and the attacks of vermin are constantly marring the planter's expectations. Among the latter plagues the "bug" stands foremost. This is a minute and gregarious insect, which lives upon the juices of the coffee tree, and accordingly is most destructive to an estate. It attacks a variety of plants, but more particularly the tribe of jessamine; thus the common jessamine, the "Gardenia" (Cape jessamine) and the coffee (Jasminum Arabicum) are more especially subject to its ravages.
The dwelling of this insect is frequently confounded with the living creature itself. This dwelling is in shape and appearance like the back shell of a tortoise, or, still more, like a "limpet," being attached to the stem of the tree in the same manner that the latter adheres to a rock. This is the nest or house, which, although no larger than a split hempseed contains some hundreds of the "bug." As some thousands of these scaly nests exist upon one tree, myriads of insects must be feeding upon its juices.
The effect produced upon the tree is a blackened and sooty appearance, like a London shrub; the branches look withered, and the berries do not plump out to their full size, but, for the most part, fall unripened from the tree. This attack is usually of about two years' duration; after which time the tree loses its blackened appearance, which peels off the surface of the leaves like gold-beaters' skin, -and they appear in their natural color. Coffee plants of young growth are liable to complete destruction if severely attacked by " bug."
Rats are also very destructive to an estate ; they are great adepts at pruning, and completely strip the trees of their young shoots, thus utterly destroying a crop. These vermin are more easily guarded against than the insect tribe, and should be destroyed by poison. Hog's lard, ground cocoa-nut and phosphorus form the most certain bait and poison combined.
These are some of the drawbacks to coffee-planting, to say nothing of bad seasons and fluctuating prices, which, if properly calculated, considerably lessen the average profits of an estate, as it must be remembered that while a crop is reduced in quantity, the expenses continue at the usual rate, and are severely felt when consecutive years bring no produce to meet them.
Were it not for the poverty of the soil, the stock of cattle required on a coffee estate for the purpose of manure might be made extremely profitable, and the gain upon fatted stock would pay for the expense of manuring the estate. This would be the first and most reasonable idea to occur to an agriculturist - "buy poor cattle at a low price, fatten them for the butcher, and they give both profit and manure."
Unfortunately, the natural pasturage is not sufficiently good to fatten beasts indiscriminately. There are some few out of a herd of a hundred who will grow fat upon anything, but the generality will not improve to any great degree. This accounts for the scarcity of fine meat throughout Ceylon. Were the soil only tolerably good, so that oats, vetches, turnips and mangel wurtzel could be could be grown on virgin land without manure, beasts might be stall-fed, the manure doubled by that method, and a profit made on the animals. Pigs are now kept extensively on coffee estates for the sake of their manure, and being fed on Mauritius grass (a coarse description of gigantic " couch") and a liberal allowance of cocoa-nut oil cake ("poonac"), are found to succeed, although the manure is somewhat costly.
English or Australian sheep have hitherto been untried - for what reason I cannot imagine, unless from the expense of their prime cost, which is about two pounds per head. These thrive to such perfection at Newera Ellia, and also in Kandy, that they should succeed in a high degree in the medium altitudes of the coffee estates. There are immense tracts of country peculiarly adapted for sheep-farming throughout the highlands of Ceylon, especially in the neighborhood of the coffee estates. There are two enemies, however, against which they would have to contend - viz., "leopards" and "leeches." The former are so destructive that the shepherd could never lose sight of his flock without great risk; but the latter, although troublesome, are not to be so much dreaded as people suppose. They are very small, and the quantity of blood drawn by their bite is so trifling that no injury could possibly follow, unless from the flies, which would be apt to attack the sheep on the smell of blood. These are drawbacks which might be easily avoided by common precaution, and I feel thoroughly convinced that sheep-farming upon the highland pasturage would be a valuable adjunct to a coffee estate, both as productive of manure and profit. I have heard the same opinion expressed by an experienced Australian sheep-farmer.
This might be experimented upon in the "down" country of Ouva with great hopes of success, and by a commencement upon a small scale the risk would be trifling. Here there is an immense tract of country with a peculiar short grass in every way adapted for sheep-pasturage, and with the additional advantage of being nearly free from leopards. Should sheep succeed on an extensive scale the advantage to the farmer and to the colony would be mutual.
The depredations of leopards among cattle are no inconsiderable causes of loss. At Newera Ellia hardly a week passes without some casualty among the stock of different proprietors. Here the leopards are particularly daring, and cases have frequently occurred where they have effected their entrance to a cattle-shed by scratching a hole through the thatched roof. They then commit a wholesale slaughter among sheep and cattle. Sometimes, however, they catch a "Tartar." The native cattle are small, but very active, and the cows are particularly savage when the calf is with them.
About three years ago a leopard took it into his head to try the beefsteaks of a very savage and sharp-horned cow, who with her calf was the property of the blacksmith. It was a dark, rainy night, the blacksmith and his wife were in bed, and the cow and her calf were nestled in the warm straw in the cattle-shed. The door was locked, and all was apparently secure, where the hungry leopard prowled stealthily round the cowhouse, sniffing the prey within. The scent of the leopard at once aroused the keen senses of the cow, made doubly acute by her anxiety for her little charge, and she stood ready for the danger as the leopard, having mounted on the roof, commenced scratching his way through the thatch.
Down he sprang!- but at the same instant, with a splendid charge, the cow pinned him against the wall, and a battle ensued which can easily be imagined. A coolie slept in the corner of the cattle-shed, whose wandering senses were completely scattered when he found himself the unwilling umpire of the fight. He rushed out and shut the door. In a few minutes he succeeded in awakening the blacksmith, who struck a light and proceeded to load a pistol, the only weapon that he possessed. During the whole of this time the bellowing of the cow, the roars of the leopard and the thumping, trampling and shuffling which proceeded from the cattle-shed, explained the savage nature of the fight.
The blacksmith, who was no sportsman, shortly found himself with a lanthorn in one hand, a pistol in the other, and no idea of what he meant to do. He waited, therefore, at the cattle-shed door, and holding the light so as to shine through the numerous small apertures in the shed, he looked in.
The leopard no longer growled; but the cow was mad with fury. She alternately threw a large dark mass above her head, then quickly pinned it to the ground on its descent, then bored it against the wall as it crawled helplessly toward a corner of the shed. This was the "beef-eater" in reduced circumstances! The gallant little cow had nearly killed him, and was giving him the finishing strokes. The blacksmith perceived the leopard's helpless state, and, boldly opening the door, he discharged his pistol, and the next moment was bolting as hard as he could run, with the warlike cow after him. She was regularly "up," and was ready for anything or anybody. However, she was at length pacified, and the dying leopard was put out of his misery.
There are two distinct species of the leopard in Ceylon - viz., the "chetah," and the "leopard" or "panther." There have been many opinions on the subject, but I have taken particular notice of the two animals, and nothing can be more clear than the distinction.
The "chetah" is much smaller than the leopard, seldom exceeding seven feet from the nose to the end of tile tail. He is covered with round black "spots" of the size of a shilling, and his weight rarely exceeds ninety pounds.
The leopard varies from eight to nine feet in length, and has been known to reach even ten feet. His body is covered with black "rings," with a rich brown centre - his muzzle and legs are speckled with black "spots," and his weight is from one hundred and ten to one hundred and seventy pounds. There is little or no distinction between the leopard and the panther, they are synonymous terms for a variety of species in different countries. In Ceylon all leopards are termed "chetahs" which proceeds from the general ignorance of the presence of the two species.
The power of a leopard is wonderful in proportion to his weight. I have seen a full-grown bullock with its neck broken by the leopard that attacked it. It is the popular belief that the effect is produced by a blow of the paw; this is not the case; it is not simply the blow, but it is the combination of the weight, the power and the momentum of the spring which renders the effects of a leopard's attack so surprising.
Few leopards rush boldly to the attack like a dog; they stalk their game and advance crouchingly, making use of every object that will afford them cover until they are within a few bounds of their prey. Then the immense power of muscle is displayed in the concentrated energy of the spring; he flies through the air and settles on the throat, usually throwing his own body over the animal, while his teeth and claws are fixed on the neck; this is the manner in which the spine of an animal is broken - by a sudden twist, and not by a blow.
The blow from the paw is nevertheless immensely powerful, and at one stroke will rip open a bullock like a knife ; but the after effects of the wound are still more to be dreaded than the force of the blow. There is a peculiar poison in the claw which is highly dangerous. This is caused by the putrid flesh which they are constantly tearing, and which is apt to cause gangrene by inoculation.
It is a prevalent idea that a leopard will not eat putrid meat, but that he forsakes a rotten carcase and seeks fresh prey. There is no doubt that a natural love of slaughter induces him to a constant search for prey, but it has nothing to do with the daintiness of his appetite. A leopard will eat any stinking offal that offers, and I once had a melancholy proof of this.
I was returning from a morning's hunting; it was a bitter day; the rain was pouring in torrents, the wind was blowing a gale and sweeping the water in sheets along the earth. The hounds were following at my horse's heels, with their cars and sterns down, looking very miserable, and altogether it was a day when man and beast should have been at home. Presently, upon turning a corner of the road, I saw a Malabar boy of about sixteen years of age, squatted shivering by the roadside. His only covering being a scanty cloth round his loins, I told him to get up and go on or he would be starved with cold. He said something in reply, which I could not understand, and repeating my first warning, I rode on. It was only two miles to my house, but upon arrival I could not help thinking that the boy must be ill, and having watched the gate for some time to see if he passed by, I determined to send for him.
Accordingly, I started off a couple of men with orders to carry him up if he were sick.
They returned in little more than an hour, but the poor boy was dead! - sitting crouched in the same position in which I had seen him. He must have died of cold and starvation; he was a mere skeleton.
I sent men to the spot, and had him buried by the roadside, and a few days after I rode down to see where they had laid him.
A quantity of fresh-turned earth lay scattered about, mingled with fragments of rags. Bones much gnawed lay here and there on the road, and a putrid skull rolled from a shapeless hole among a confused and horrible heap. The leopards had scratched him up and devoured him; their footprints were still fresh upon the damp ground.
Both leopards and chetahs are frequently caught at Newera Ellia. The common trap is nothing more or less than an old-fashioned mouse-trap, with a falling door on a large scale; this is baited with a live kid or sheep; but the leopard is naturally so wary that he frequently refuses to enter the ominous-looking building, although he would not hesitate to break into an ordinary shed. The best kind of trap is a gun set with a line, and the bait placed so that the line must be touched as the animal advances toward it. This is certain destruction to the leopard, but it is extremely dangerous, in case any stranger should happen to be in the neighborhood who might inadvertently touch the cord.
Leopards are particularly fond of stealing dogs, and have frequently taken them from the very verandas of the houses at Newera Ellia in the dusk of the evening. Two or three cases have occurred within the last two years where they have actually sprung out upon dogs who have been accompanying their owners upon the high road in broad daylight. Their destruction should be encouraged by a government reward of one pound per head, in which case their number would be materially decreased in a few years.
The best traps for chetahs would be very powerful vermin-gins, made expressly of great size and strength, so as to lie one foot square when open. Even a common jackal-trap would hold a leopard, provided the chain was fastened to an elastic bough, so that it would yield slightly to his spring; but if it were secured to a post, or to anything that would enable him to get a dead pull against it, something would most likely give way. I have constantly set these traps for them, but always without success, as some other kind of vermin is nearly certain to spring the trap before the chetah's arrival. Among the variety of small animals thus caught I have frequently taken the civet cat. This is a very pretty arid curious creature, about forty inches long from nose to tip of tail. The fur is ash-gray, mottled with black spots, and the tail is divided by numerous black rings. It is of the genius Viverra, and is exceedingly fierce when attacked. It preys chiefly upon fowls, hares, rats, etc. Its great peculiarity is the musk-bag or gland situated nearly under the tail; this is a projecting and valued gland, which secretes the musk, and is used medicinally by the Cingalese, on which account it is valued at about six shillings a pod. The smell is very powerful, and in my opinion very offensive, when the animal is alive; but when a pod of musk is extracted and dried, it has nothing more than the well-known scent of that used by perfumers. The latter is more frequently the production of the musk-deer, although the scent is possessed by many animals, and also insects, as the musk-ox, the musk-deer, the civet or musk-cat, the musk-rat, the musk-beetle, etc.
Of these, the musk-rat is a terrible plague, as he perfumes everything that he passes over, rendering fruit, cake, bread, etc., perfectly uneatable, and even flavoring bottled wine by running over the bottles. This, however, requires a little explanation, although it is the popular belief that he taints the wine through the glass.
The fact is, he taints the cork, and the flavor of musk is communicated to the wine during the process of uncorking the bottle.
There is a great variety of rats in Ceylon, from the tiny shrew to the large "bandicoot". This is a most destructive creature in all gardens, particularly among potato crops, whole rows of which he digs out and devours. He is a perfect rat in appearance, but he would rather astonish one of our English tom-cats if encountered during his rambles in search of rats, as the "bandicoot" is about the same size as the cat.
There is an immense variety of vermin throughout Ceylon, including many of that useful species the ichneumon, who in courage and strength stands first of his tribe. The destruction of snakes by this animal renders him particularly respected, and no person ever thinks of destroying him. No matter how venomous the snake, the ichneumon, or mongoose, goes straight at him, and never gives up the contest until the snake is vanquished.
It is the popular belief that the mongoose eats some herb which has the property of counteracting the effects of a venomous bite; but this has been proved to be a fallacy, as pitched battles have been witnessed between a mongoose and the most poisonous snakes in a closed room, where there was no possibility of his procuring the antidote. His power consists in his vigilance and activity; he avoids the dart of the snake, and adroitly pins him by the back of the neck. Here he maintains his hold, in spite of the contortions and convulsive writhing of the snake, until he succeeds in breaking the spine. A mongoose is about three feet long from the nose to the tip of the tail, and is of the same genus as the civet cat. Unfortunately, he does not confine his destruction to vermin, but now and then pays a visit to a hen-roost, and sometimes, poor fellow! he puts his foot in the traps.
Ceylon can produce an enticing catalogue of attractions, from the smallest to the largest of the enemies to the human race - ticks, bugs, fleas, tarantulas, centipedes, scorpions, leeches, snakes, lizards, crocodiles, etc., of which more hereafter.