Tennent's Natural History of Ceylon - 1861

[Last] [Home] [Next]



With the exception of the Mammalia and Birds, the fauna of Ceylon has, up to the present, failed to receive that systematic attention to which its richness and variety most amply entitle it. The Singhalese themselves, habitually indolent, and singularly unobservant of nature and her operations, are at the same time restrained from the study of natural history by the tenet of their religion which forbids the taking of life under any circumstances. From the nature of their avocations, the majority of the European residents, engaged in planting and commerce, are discouraged by want of leisure from cultivating the taste; and it is to be regretted that, with few exceptions, the civil servants of the government, whose position and duties would have afforded them influence and extended opportunities for successful investigation, have never seen the importance of encouraging such studies.

The first effective impulse to the cultivation of natural science in Ceylon, was communicated by Dr. Davy when connected with the medical staff 1 of the army from 1816 to 1820, and his example stimulated some of the assistant-surgeons of Her Majesty's forces to make collections [pg 4] in illustration of the productions of the colony. Of these the late Dr. Kinnis was one of the most energetic and successful. He was seconded by Dr. Templeton of the Royal Artillery, who engaged assiduously in the investigation of various orders, and commenced an interchange of specimens with Mr. Blyth 2 , the distinguished naturalist and curator of the Calcutta Museum. The birds and rarer vertebrata of the island were thus compared with their peninsular congeners, and a tolerable knowledge of those belonging to the island, so far as regards the higher classes of animals, has been the result. The example so set was perseveringly followed by Mr. E.L. Layard and the late Dr. Kelaart, and infinite credit is due to Mr. Blyth for the zealous and untiring energy with which he has devoted his attention and leisure to the identification of the specimens forwarded from Ceylon, and to their description in the Calcutta Journal. To him, and to the gentlemen I have named, we are mainly indebted for whatever accurate knowledge we now possess of the zoology of the colony.

The mammalia, birds, and reptiles received their first scientific description in an able work published in 1852 by Dr. Kelaart of the army medical staff 3 , which is by far the most valuable that has yet appeared on the Singhalese fauna. Co-operating with him, Mr. Layard has supplied a fund of information especially in ornithology and conchology. The zoophytes and Crustacea have I believe been partially investigated by Professor Harvey, who visited Ceylon in 1852, and more recently [pg 5] by Professor Schmarda, of the University of Prague. From the united labours of these gentlemen and others interested in the same pursuits, we may hope at an early day to obtain such a knowledge of the zoology of Ceylon as will to some extent compensate for the long indifference of the government officers.

Ceylon Monkeys


1. Presbytes cephalopterus.

2. P. thersites

3. P. Priamus

4. Macacus pileatus

I. QUADRUMANA. 1. Monkeys.—To a stranger in the tropics, among the most attractive creatures in the forests are the troops of monkeys that career in ceaseless chase among the loftiest trees. In Ceylon there are five species, four of which belong to one group, the Wanderoos, and the other is the little graceful grimacing rilawa 4 , which is the universal pet and favourite of both natives and Europeans. The Tamil conjurors teach it to dance, and in their wanderings carry it from village to village, clad in a grotesque dress, to exhibit its lively performances. It does not object to smoke tobacco. The Wanderoo is too grave and melancholy to be trained to these drolleries.

KNOX, in his captivating account of the island, gives an accurate description of both; the Rilawas, with "no beards, white faces, and long hair on the top of their heads, which parteth and hangeth down like a man's, and which do a deal of mischief to the corn, and are so impudent that they will come into their gardens and eat such fruit as grows there. And the Wanderoos, some [pg 6] as large as our English spaniel dogs, of a darkish grey colour, and black faces with great white beards round from ear to ear, which makes them show just like old men. This sort does but little mischief, keeping in the woods, eating only leaves and buds of trees, but when they are catched they will eat anything." 5

KNOX, whose experience during his long captivity was confined almost exclusively to the hill country around Kandy, spoke in all probability of one large and comparatively powerful species, Presbytes ursinus, which inhabits the lofty forests, and which, as well as another of the same group, P. Thersites, was, till recently, unknown to European naturalists. The Singhalese word Ouandura has a generic sense, and being in every respect the equivalent for our own term of "monkey" it necessarily comprehends the low country species, as well as those which inhabit other parts of the island. In point of fact, there are no less than four animals in the island, each of which is entitled to the name of "wanderoo." 6 Each separate species has appropriated [pg 7] to itself a different district of the wooded country, and seldom encroaches on the domain of its neighbours.

1. Of the four species found in Ceylon, the most numerous in the island, and the one best known in Europe, is the Wanderoo of the low country, the P. cephalopterus of Zimmerman. 7 Although common in the southern and western provinces, it is never found at a higher elevation than 1300 feet. It is an active and intelligent creature, little larger than the common bonneted Macaque, and far from being so mischievous as others of the monkeys in the island. In captivity it is remarkable for the gravity of its demeanour and for an air of melancholy in its expression and movements which are completely in character with its snowy beard and venerable aspect. In disposition it is gentle and confiding, sensible in the highest degree of kindness, and eager for endearing attention, uttering a low plaintive cry when its sympathies are excited. It is particularly cleanly in its habits when domesticated, and spends much of its time in trimming its fur, and carefully divesting its hair of particles of dust.

Those which I kept at my house near Colombo were chiefly fed upon plantains and bananas, but for nothing did they evince a greater partiality than the rose-coloured flowers of the red hibiscus (H. rosa-sinensis). [pg 8] These they devoured with unequivocal gusto; they likewise relished the leaves of many other trees, and even the bark of a few of the more succulent ones. A hint might possibly be taken from this circumstance for improving the regimen of monkeys in menageries, by the occasional admixture of a few fresh leaves and flowers with their solid and substantial dietary.

A white monkey, taken between Ambepusse and Kornegalle, where they are said to be numerous, was brought to me to Colombo. Except in colour, it had all the characteristics of Presbytes cephalopterus. So striking was its whiteness that it might have been conjectured to be an albino, but for the circumstance that its eyes and face were black. I have heard that white monkeys have been seen near the Ridi-galle Wihara in Seven Korles and also at Tangalle; but I never saw another specimen. The natives say they are not uncommon, and KNOX that they are "milk-white both in body and face; but of this sort there is not such plenty." 8 The Rev. R. SPENCE HARDY mentions, in his learned work on Eastern Monachism, that on the occasion of his visit to the great temple of Dambool, he encountered a troop of white monkeys on the rock in which it is situated—which were, doubtless, a variety of the Wanderoo. 9 PLINY was aware of the fact that white monkeys are occasionally found in India. 10

When observed in their native wilds, a party of twenty or thirty of these creatures is generally busily engaged in the search for berries and buds. They are seldom to be seen on the ground, except when [pg 9] they may have descended to recover seeds or fruit which have fallen at the foot of their favourite trees. When disturbed, their leaps are prodigious: but, generally speaking, their progress is made not so much by leaping as by swinging from branch to branch, using their powerful arms alternately; and when baffled by distance, flinging themselves obliquely so as to catch the lower boughs of an opposite tree, the momentum acquired by their descent being sufficient to cause a rebound of the branch, that carries them upwards again, till they can grasp a higher and more distant one, and thus continue their headlong flight. In these perilous achievements, wonder is excited less by the surpassing agility of these little creatures, frequently encumbered as they are by their young, which cling to them in their career, than by the quickness of their eye and the unerring accuracy with which they seem almost to calculate the angle at which a descent will enable them to cover a given distance, and the recoil to attain a higher altitude.

2. The low country Wanderoo is replaced in the hills by the larger species, P. ursinus, which inhabits the mountain zone. The natives, who designate the latter the Maha or Great Wanderoo, to distinguish it from the Kaloo, or black one, with which they are familiar, describe it as much wilder, and more powerful than its congener of the lowland forests. It is rarely seen by Europeans, this portion of the country having till very recently been but partially opened; and even now it is difficult to observe its habits, as it seldom approaches the few roads which wind through these deep solitudes. At early morning, ere the day begins to dawn, its loud and peculiar howl, which consists of a quick repetition [pg 10] of the sounds how how! maybe frequently heard in the mountain jungles, and forms one of the characteristic noises of these lofty situations. It was first captured by Dr. Kelaart in the woods near Nuera-ellia, and from its peculiar appearance it has been named P. ursinus by Mr. Blyth. 11

3. The P. Thersites, which is chiefly distinguished from the others by wanting the head tuft, is so rare that it was for some time doubtful whether the single specimen procured by Dr. Templeton from the Nuera-kalawa, west of Trincomalie, and on which Mr. Blyth conferred this new name, was in reality native; but the occurrence of a second, since identified by Dr. Kelaart, has established its existence as a separate species. Like the common wanderoo, the one obtained by Dr. Templeton was partial to fresh vegetables, plantains, and fruit; but he ate freely boiled rice, beans, and gram. He was fond of being noticed and petted, stretching out his limbs in succession to be scratched, drawing himself up so that his ribs might be reached by the finger, closing his eyes during the operation, and evincing his satisfaction by grimaces irresistibly ludicrous.

4. The P. Priamus inhabits the northern and eastern provinces, and the wooded hills which occur in these portions of the island. In appearance it differs both in size and in colour from the common wanderoo, being larger and more inclined to grey; and in habits it is much less reserved. At Jaffna, and in other parts of the island where the population is comparatively numerous, [pg 11] these monkeys become so familiarised with the presence of man as to exhibit the utmost daring and indifference. A flock of them will take possession of a Palmyra palm; and so effectually can they crouch and conceal themselves among the leaves that, on the slightest alarm, the whole party becomes invisible in an instant. The presence of a dog, however, excites such an irrepressible curiosity that, in order to watch his movements, they never fail to betray themselves. They may be frequently seen congregated on the roof of a native hut: and, some years ago, the child of a European clergyman stationed near Jaffna having been left on the ground by the nurse, was so teased and bitten by them as to cause its death.

The Singhalese have the impression that the remains of a monkey are never to be found in the forest; a belief which they have embodied in the proverb that "he who has seen a white crow, the nest of a paddi bird, a straight coco-nut tree, or a dead monkey, is certain to live for ever." This piece of folk-lore has evidently reached Ceylon from India, where it is believed that persons dwelling on the spot where a hanumân monkey, Semnopithecus entellus, has been killed, will die, that even its bones are unlucky, and that no house erected where they are hid under ground can prosper. Hence when a dwelling is to be built, it is one of the employments of the Jyotish philosophers to ascertain by their science that none such are concealed; and Buchanan observes that "it is, perhaps, owing to this fear of ill-luck that no native will acknowledge his having seen a dead hanumân." 12

[pg 12]

The only other quadrumanous animal found in Ceylon is the little loris 13 , which, from its sluggish movements, nocturnal habits, and consequent inaction during the day, has acquired the name of the "Ceylon Sloth."

The Loris THE LORIS.

There are two varieties in the island; one of the ordinary fulvous brown, and another larger, whose fur is entirely black. A specimen of the former was sent to me from Chilaw, on the western coast, and lived for some time at Colombo, feeding on rice, fruit, and vegetables. It was partial to ants and, other insects, and was always eager for milk or the bone of a fowl. The naturally slow motion of its limbs enables the loris to [pg 13] approach its prey so stealthily that it seizes birds before they can be alarmed by its presence. The natives assert that it has been known to strangle the pea-fowl at night, to feast on the brain. During the day the one which I kept was usually asleep in the strange position represented on the last page; its perch firmly grasped with both hands, its back curved into a ball of soft fur, and its head hidden deep between its legs. The singularly-large and intense eyes of the loris have attracted the attention, of the Singhalese, who capture the creature for the purpose of extracting them as charms and love-potions, and this they are said to effect by holding the little animal to the fire till its eyeballs burst. Its Tamil name is thaxangu, or "thin-bodied;" and hence a deformed child or an emaciated person has acquired in the Tamil districts the same epithet. The light-coloured variety of the loris in Ceylon has a spot on its forehead, somewhat resembling the namam, or mark worn by the worshippers of Vishnu; and, from this peculiarity, it is distinguished as the Nama-thavangu. 14

II. CHEIROPTERA. Bats.—The multitude of bats is one of the features of the evening landscape; they abound in every cave and subterranean passage, in the tunnels on the highways, in the galleries of the fortifications, in the roofs of the bungalows, and the ruins of every temple and building. At sunset they are seen issuing from their diurnal retreats to roam through the twilight in search of crepuscular insects, and as night approaches and the lights in the rooms attract the night-flying lepidoptera, the bats sweep round the dinner-table and [pg 14] carry off their tiny prey within the glitter of the lamps. Including the frugivorous section about sixteen species have been identified in Ceylon; and remarkable varieties of two of these are peculiar to the island. The colours of some of them are as brilliant as the plumage of a bird, bright yellow, deep orange, and a rich ferruginous brown inclining to red. 15

But of all the bats, the most conspicuous from its size and numbers, and the most interesting from its habits, is the rousette of Ceylon 16 ;—the "flying fox," as it is called by Europeans, from the similarity to that animal in its head and ears, its bright eyes, and intelligent little face. In its aspect it has nothing of the disagreeable and repulsive look so common amongst the ordinary vespertilionidæ; it likewise differs from them in the want of the nose-leaf, as well as of the tail. In the absence of the latter, its flight is directed by means of a membrane attached to the inner side of each of the hind legs, and kept distended at the lower extremity by a projecting bone, just as a fore-and-aft sail is distended by a "gaff."

Flying Foxes FLYING FOXES.

In size the body measures from ten to twelve inches in length, but the arms are prolonged, and especially the metacarpal bones and phalanges of the four fingers over which the leathery wings are distended, till the alar expanse measures between four and five feet. Whilst the function of these metamorphosed limbs in sustaining flight entitles them to the designation of "wings," they are endowed with another faculty, the existence of [pg 15] which essentially distinguishes them from the feathery wings of a bird, and vindicates the appropriateness of the term Cheiro-ptera 17 , or "winged hands," by which the bats are designated. Over the entire surface of the thin membrane of which they are formed, sentient nerves of the utmost delicacy are distributed, by means of which the animal is enabled during the darkness to direct its motions with security, avoiding objects against contact with which at such times its eyes and other senses would be insufficient to protect it. 18 Spallanzani ascertained the perfection of this faculty by a series of cruel experiments, by which he demonstrated that bats, even after their eyes had been destroyed, and their external organs, of smell and hearing obliterated, were still enabled to direct their flight with unhesitating confidence, avoiding even threads suspended to intercept them. But after ascertaining the fact, Spallanzani was slow to arrive at its origin; and ascribed the surprising power to the existence of some sixth supplementary sense, the enjoyment of which was withheld from other animals. Cuvier, however, dissipated the obscurity by showing the seat of this extraordinary endowment to be in the wings, the superficies of which retains the exquisite sensitiveness to touch that is inherent in the palms of the human hand and the extremities of the fingers, as well as in the feet of some of the mammalia. 19 The face and head of the Pteropus are covered with brownish-grey hairs, the neck and chest are dark ferruginous grey, and the rest of the body brown, inclining to black.

[pg 16]

These active and energetic creatures, though chiefly frugivorous, are to some extent insectivorous also, as attested by their teeth 20 , as well as by their habits. They feed, amongst other things, on the guava, the plantain, the rose-apple, and the fruit of the various fig-trees. Flying foxes are abundant in all the maritime districts, especially at the season when the pulum-imbul 21 , one of the silk-cotton trees, is putting forth its flower-buds, of which they are singularly fond. By day they suspend themselves from the highest branches, hanging by the claws of the hind legs, with the head turned upwards, and pressing the chin against the breast. At sunset taking wing, they hover, with a murmuring sound occasioned by the beating of their broad membranous wings, around the fruit trees, on which they feed till morning, when they resume their pensile attitude as before.

A favourite resort of these bats is to the lofty india-rubber trees, which on one side overhang the Botanic Gardens of Paradenia in the vicinity of Kandy. Thither for some years past, they have congregated, chiefly in the autumn, taking their departure when the figs of the ficus elastica are consumed. Here they hang in such prodigious numbers, that frequently, large branches give way beneath their accumulated weight. Every forenoon, generally between the hours of 9 and 11 A.M., they take to wing, apparently for exercise, and possibly to sun their wings and fur, and dry them after the dews of the early morning. On these occasions, their numbers are quite surprising, flying in clouds as thick as bees or midges. After these recreations, they hurry back to their favourite trees, chattering and screaming like monkeys, and always wrangling and contending angrily for the most shady and comfortable places in which to hang for the rest of the day protected from the sun. The branches they resort to soon become almost divested of leaves, these being stripped off by the action of the bats, attaching and detaching themselves by means of their hooked feet. At sunset, they fly off to their feeding-grounds, probably at a considerable distance, as it requires a large area to furnish sufficient food for such multitudes.

[pg 17]

In all its movements and attitudes, the action of the Pteropus is highly interesting. If placed upon the ground, it is almost helpless, none of its limbs being calculated for progressive motion; it drags itself along by means of the hook attached to each of its extended thumbs, pushing at the same time with those of its hind feet. Its natural position is exclusively pensile; it moves laterally from branch to branch with great ease, by using each foot alternately, and climbs, when necessary, by means of its claws.

When at rest, or asleep, the disposition of the limbs is most curious. At such times it suspends itself by one foot only, bringing the other close to its side, and thus it is enabled to wrap itself in the ample folds of its wings, which envelop it like a mantle, leaving only its upturned head uncovered. Its fur is thus protected from damp and rain, and to some extent its body is sheltered from the sun.

As it collects its food by means of its mouth, either when on the wing, or when suspended within reach of it, the flying-fox is always more or less liable to [pg 18] have the spoil wrested from it by its intrusive companions, before it can make good its way to some secure retreat in which to devour it unmolested. In such conflicts they bite viciously, tear each other with their hooks, and scream incessantly, till, taking to flight, the persecuted one reaches some place of safety, where he hangs by one foot, and grasping the fruit he has secured in the claws and opposable thumb of the other, he hastily reduces it to lumps, with which he stuffs his cheek pouches till they become distended like those of a monkey; then suspended in safety, he commences to chew and suck the pieces, rejecting the refuse with his tongue.

To drink, which it does by lapping, the Pteropus suspends itself head downwards from a branch above the water.

Insects, caterpillars, birds' eggs, and young birds are devoured by them; and the Singhalese say that the flying-fox will even attack a tree snake. It is killed by the natives for the sake of its flesh, which, I have been told by a gentleman who has eaten of it, resembles that of the hare. 22 It is strongly attracted to the coconut trees during the period when toddy is drawn for distillation, and exhibits, it is said, at such times, symptoms resembling intoxication.

Neither the flying-fox, nor any other bat that I know of in Ceylon, ever hybernates.

There are several varieties (one of them peculiar to the island) of the horse-shoe-headed Rhinolophus, with the strange leaf-like appendage erected on the extremity of the nose.

[pg 19]

It has been suggested that the insectivorous bats, though nocturnal, are deficient in that keen vision characteristic of animals which take their prey by night.


I doubt whether this conjecture be well founded; it certainly does not apply to the Pteropus and the other frugivorous species, in which the faculty of sight is singularly clear. As regards the others, it is possible that in their peculiar æconomy some additional power may be required to act in concert with that of vision, as in insects, touch is superadded, in its most sensitive development, to that of sight. It is probable that the noseleaf, which forms an extended screen stretched behind the nostrils in some of the bats, may be intended by nature to facilitate the collection and conduction of odours, just as the vast expansion of the shell of the ear in the same family is designed to assist in the collection of sounds—and thus to supplement their vision when in pursuit of prey in the dusk by the superior sensitiveness of the organs of hearing and smell.

One tiny little bat, not much larger than the humble [pg 20] bee 23 , and of a glossy black colour, is sometimes to be seen about Colombo. It is so familiar and gentle that it will alight on the cloth during dinner, and manifests so little alarm that it seldom makes any effort to escape before a wine glass can be inverted to secure it.

Although not strictly in order, this seems not an inappropriate place to notice one of the most curious peculiarities connected with the bats—their singular parasite, the Nycteribia. 24 On cursory observation this creature appears to have neither head, antennæ, eyes, nor mouth; and the earlier observers of its structure satisfied themselves that the place of the latter was supplied by a cylindrical sucker, which, being placed between the shoulders, the insect had no option but to turn on its back to feed. Another anomaly was thought to compensate for this apparent inconvenience;—its three pairs of legs, armed with claws, are so arranged that they seem to be equally distributed over its upper and under sides, the creature being thus enabled to use them like hands, and to grasp the strong hairs above it while extracting its nourishment.

It moves, in fact, by rolling itself rapidly along, rotating like a wheel on the extremities of its spokes, or like the clown in a pantomime, hurling himself forward on hands and feet alternately. Its celerity is so great that Colonel Montague, who was one of the first to describe it minutely 25 , says its speed exceeds that of any known insect, and as its joints are so flexible as to yield in every direction (like what mechanics call a "ball and socket"), its motions are exceedingly grotesque as it tumbles through the fur of the bat.

[pg 21]

To enable it to attain its marvellous velocity, each foot is armed with two sharp hooks, with elastic opposable pads, so that the hair can not only be rapidly seized and firmly held, but as quickly disengaged, as the creature whirls away in its headlong career.

The insects to which it bears the nearest affinity, are the Hippoboscidæ, or "spider flies," that infest birds and horses; but, unlike them, the Nycteribia is unable to fly.

Its strangest peculiarity, and that which gave rise to the belief that it was headless, is its faculty when at rest of throwing back its head and pressing it close between its shoulders till the under side becomes uppermost, not a vestige of head being discernible where we would naturally look for it, and the whole seeming but a casual inequality on its back.

On closer examination this, apparent tubercle is found to have a leathery attachment like a flexible neck, and by a sudden jerk the little creature is enabled to project it forward into its normal position, when it is discovered to be furnished with a mouth, antennæ, and four eyes, two on each side.

The organisation of such an insect is a marvellous adaptation of physical form to special circumstances. As the nycteribia has to make its way through fur and [pg 22] hairs, its feet are furnished with prehensile hooks that almost convert them into hands; and being obliged to conform to the sudden flights of its patron, and accommodate itself to inverted positions, all attitudes are rendered alike to it by the arrangement of its limbs, which enables it, after every possible gyration, to find itself always on its feet.

III. CARNIVORA.—Bears.—Of the carnivora, the one most dreaded by the natives of Ceylon, and the only one of the larger animals that makes the depths of the forest its habitual retreat, is the bear 26 , attracted chiefly by the honey which is found in the hollow trees and clefts of the rocks. Occasionally spots of fresh earth are observed which have been turned up by the bears in search of some favourite root. They feed also on the termites and ants. A friend of mine traversing the forest, near Jaffna, at early dawn, had his attention attracted by the growling of a bear, that was seated upon a lofty branch, thrusting portions of a red-ants' nest into his mouth with one paw, whilst with the other he endeavoured to clear his eyebrows and lips of the angry inmates, which bit and tortured him in their rage. The Ceylon bear is found in the low and dry districts of the northern and south-eastern coast, and is seldom met with on the mountains or the moist and damp plains of the west. It is furnished with a bushy tuft of hair on the back, between the shoulders, by which the young are accustomed to cling till sufficiently strong to provide for their own safety. During a severe drought that prevailed in the northern province in 1850, the district of Caretchy was so infested by bears that the Oriental custom of the women resorting to the wells was altogether suspended, as it was a common occurrence to find one of these animals in the water, unable to climb up the yielding and slippery soil, down which its thirst had impelled it to slide during the night.

[pg 23]

Although the structure of the bear shows him to be naturally omnivorous, he rarely preys upon flesh in Ceylon, and his solitary habits whilst in search of honey and fruits render him timid and retiring. Hence he evinces alarm on the approach of man or other animals, and, unable to make a rapid retreat, his panic, rather than any vicious disposition, leads him to become an assailant in self-defence. But so furious are his assaults under such circumstances that the Singhalese have a terror of his attack greater than that created by any [pg 24] other beast of the forest. If not armed with a gun, a native, in the places where bears abound, usually carries a light axe, called "kodelly," with which to strike them on the head. The bear, on the other hand, always aims at the face, and, if successful in prostrating his victim, usually commences by assailing the eyes. I have met numerous individuals on our journeys who exhibited frightful scars from such encounters, the white seams of their wounds contrasting hideously with the dark colour of the rest of their bodies.

The Veddahs in Bintenne, whose principal stores consist of honey, live in dread of the bears, because, attracted by the perfume, they will not hesitate to attack their rude dwellings, when allured by this irresistible temptation. The Post-office runners, who always travel by night, are frequently exposed to danger from these animals, especially along the coast from Putlam to Aripo, where they are found in considerable numbers; and, to guard against surprise, they are accustomed to carry flambeaux, to give warning to the bears, and enable them to shuffle out of the path. 27

[pg 25]

Leopards 28 are the only formidable members of the tiger race in Ceylon 29 , and they are neither very numerous nor very dangerous, as they seldom attack man. By the Europeans, the Ceylon leopard is erroneously called a cheetah, but the true "cheetah" (felis jubata),' the hunting leopard of India, does not exist in the island. 30

There is a rare variety of the leopard which has been found in various parts of the island, in which the skin, instead of being spotted, is of a uniform black. 31 Leopards frequent the vicinity of pasture hinds in quest of the deer and other peaceful animals which resort to them; and the villagers often complain of the destruction [pg 26] of their cattle by these formidable marauders. In relation to them, the natives have a curious but firm conviction that when a bullock is killed by a leopard, and, in expiring, falls so that its right side is undermost, the leopard will not return to devour it. I have been told by English sportsmen (some of whom share in the popular belief), that sometimes, when they have proposed to watch by the carcase of a bullock recently killed by a leopard, in the hope of shooting the spoiler on his return in search of his prey, the native owner of the slaughtered animal, though earnestly desiring to be avenged, has assured them that it would be in vain, as the beast having fallen on its right side, the leopard not return.

[pg 27]

The Singhalese hunt them for the sake of their extremely beautiful skins, but prefer taking them in traps and pitfalls, and occasionally in spring cages formed of poles driven firmly into the ground, within which a kid is generally fastened as a bait; the door being held open by a sapling bent down by the united force of several men, and so arranged as to act as a spring, to which a noose is ingeniously attached, formed of plaited deer's hide. The cries of the kid attract the leopard, which being tempted to enter, is enclosed by the liberation of the spring, and grasped firmly round the body by the noose.

Like the other carnivora, leopards are timid and cowardly in the presence of man, never intruding on him voluntarily, and making a hasty retreat when approached. Instances have, however, occurred of individuals having been slain by them; and it is believed, that, having once tasted human blood, they, like the tiger, acquire an habitual relish for it. A peon, on duty by night at the court-house of Anarajapoora, was some years ago carried off by a leopard from a table in the verandah on which he had laid down his head to sleep. At Batticaloa a "cheetah" in two instances in succession was known to carry off men placed on a stage erected in a tree to drive away elephants from rice-land: but such cases are rare, and, as compared with their dread of the bear, the natives of Ceylon entertain but slight apprehensions of the "cheetah." It is, however, the dread of sportsmen, whose dogs when beating in the jungle are especially exposed to its attacks: and I am aware of an instance in which a party having tied their dogs to the tent-pole for security, and fallen asleep round them, a leopard sprang into the tent and carried [pg 28] off a dog from the midst of its slumbering masters. On one occasion being in the mountains near Kandy, a messenger despatched to me through the jungle excused his delay by stating that a "cheetah" had seated itself in the only practicable path, and remained quietly licking its fore paws and rubbing them over its face, till he was forced to drive it, with stones, into the forest.

Leopards are strongly attracted by the peculiar odour which accompanies small-pox. The reluctance of the natives to submit themselves or their children to vaccination exposes the island to frightful visitations of this disease; and in the villages in the interior it is usual on such occasions to erect huts in the jungle to serve as temporary hospitals. Towards these the leopards are certain to be allured; and the medical officers are obliged to resort to increased precautions in consequence. This fact is connected with a curious native superstition. Amongst the avenging scourges sent direct from the gods, the Singhalese regard both the ravages of the leopard, and the visitation of the small-pox. The latter they call par excellence "maha ledda," the great "sickness;" they look upon it as a special manifestation of devidosay, "the displeasure of the gods;" and the attraction of the cheetahs to the bed of the sufferer they attribute to the same indignant agency. A few years ago, the capua, or demon-priest of a "dewale," at Oggalbodda, a village near Caltura, when suffering under small-pox, was devoured by a cheetah, and his fate was regarded by those of an opposite faith as a special judgment from heaven.

Such is the awe inspired by this belief in connection with the small-pox, that a person afflicted with it is [pg 29] always approached as one in immediate communication with the deity; his attendants, address him as "my lord," and "your lordship," and exhaust on him the whole series of honorific epithets in which their language abounds for approaching personages of the most exalted rank. At evening and morning, a lamp is lighted before him, and invoked with prayers to protect his family from the dire calamity which has befallen himself. And after his recovery, his former associates refrain from communication with him until a ceremony shall have been performed by the capua, called awasara-pandema, or "the offering of lights for permission," the object of which is to entreat permission of the deity to regard him as freed from the divine displeasure, with liberty to his friends to renew their intercourse as before.

Major SKINNER, who for upwards of forty years has had occasionally to live for long periods in the interior, occupied in the prosecution of surveys and the construction of roads, is strongly of opinion that the disposition of the leopard towards man is essentially pacific, and that, when discovered, its natural impulse is to effect its escape. In illustration of this I insert an extract from one of his letters, which describes an adventure highly characteristic of this instinctive timidity:—

"On the occasion of one of my visits to Adam's Peak, in the prosecution of my military reconnoissances of the mountain zone, I fixed on a pretty little patena (i.e., meadow) in the midst of an extensive and dense forest in the southern segment of the Peak Range, as a favourable spot for operations. It would have been difficult, after descending from the cone of the peak, to have found one's way to this point, in the midst of so [pg 30] vast a wilderness of trees, had not long experience assured me that good game tracks would be found leading to it, and by one of them I reached it. It was in the afternoon, just after one of those tropical sunshowers that decorate every branch and blade with pendant brilliants, and the little patena was covered with game, either driven to the open space by the drippings from the leaves or tempted by the freshness of the pasture: there were several pairs of elk, the bearded antlered male contrasting finely with his mate; and other varieties of game in a profusion not to be found in any place frequented by man. It was some time before I would allow them to be disturbed by the rude fall of the axe, in our necessity to establish our bivouac for the night, and they were so unaccustomed to danger that it was long before they took alarm at our noises.

"The following morning, anxious to gain a height for my observations in time to avail myself of the clear atmosphere of sunrise, I started off by myself through the jungle, leaving orders for my men, with my surveying instruments, to follow my track by the notches which I cut in the bark of the trees. On leaving the plain, I availed myself of a fine wide game track which lay in my direction, and had gone, perhaps, half a mile from the camp, when I was startled by a slight rustling in the nilloo 32 to my right, and in another instant, by the spring of a magnificent leopard, which, in a bound of full eight feet in height over the lower brushwood, lighted at my feet within eighteen inches of the spot whereon I stood, and lay in a crouching position, his fiery gleaming eyes fixed on me.

[pg 31]

"The predicament was not a pleasant one. I had no weapon of defence, and with one spring or blow of his paw the beast could have annihilated me. To move I knew would only encourage his attack. It occurred to me at the moment that I had heard of the power of man's eye over wild animals, and accordingly I fixed my gaze as intently as the agitation of such a moment enabled me on his eyes: we stared at each other for some seconds, when, to my inexpressible joy, the beast turned and bounded down the straight open path before me. This scene occurred just at that period of the morning when the grazing animals retired from the open patena to the cool shade of the forest: doubtless, the leopard had taken my approach for that of a deer, or some such animal. And if his spring had been at a quadruped instead of a biped, his distance was so well measured, that it must have landed him on the neck of a deer, an elk, or a buffalo; as it was, one pace more would have done for me. A bear would not have let his victim off so easily."

Notwithstanding the unequalled agility of the monkey, it falls a prey, and not unfrequently, to the leopard. The latter, on approaching a tree on which a troop of monkeys have taken shelter, causes an instant and fearful excitement, which they manifest by loud and continued screams, and incessant restless leaps from branch to branch. The leopard meanwhile walks round and round the tree, with his eyes firmly fixed upon his victims, till at last exhausted by terror, and prostrated by vain exertions to escape, one or more falls a prey to his voracity. So rivetted is the attention of both during the struggle, that a sportsman, on one occasion, attracted by the noise, was enabled to approach within an uncomfortable [pg 32] distance of the leopard, before he discovered the cause of the unusual dismay amongst the monkeys overhead.

It is said, but I have never been able personally to verify the fact, that the leopard of Ceylon exhibits a peculiarity in being unable entirely to retract its claws within their sheaths.

There is another piece of curious folk lore, in connexion with the leopard. The natives assert that it devours the kaolin clay called by them kiri-mattie 33 in a very peculiar way. They say that the cheetah places it in lumps beside him, and then gazes intently on the sun, till on turning his eyes on the clay, every piece appears of a red colour like flesh, when he instantly devours it.

They likewise allege that the female cheetah never produces more than one litter of whelps.

Of the lesser feline species, the number and variety in Ceylon is inferior to those of India. The Palm-cat 34 lurks by day among the fronds of the coco-nut palms, and by night makes destructive forays on the fowls of the villagers; and, in order to suck the blood of its victim, inflicts a wound so small as to be almost imperceptible. The glossy genette 35 , the "Civet" of Europeans, is common in the northern province, where the Tamils confine it in cages for the sake of its musk, which they collect from the wooden bars on which it rubs itself. Edrisi, the Moorish geographer, writing in the twelfth century, enumerates musk as one of the productions then exported from Ceylon. 36

[pg 33]

Dogs.—There is no native wild dog in Ceylon, but every village and town is haunted by mongrels of European descent, that are known by the generic description of Pariahs. They are a miserable race, lean, wretched, and mangy, acknowledged by no owners, living on the garbage of the streets and sewers, and if spoken to unexpectedly they shrink with an almost involuntary cry. Yet in these persecuted outcasts there survives that germ of instinctive affection which binds the dog to the human race, and a gentle word, even a look of compassionate kindness, is sufficient foundation for a lasting attachment.

The Singhalese, from their religious aversion to taking away life in any form, permit the increase of these desolate creatures till in the hot season they become so numerous as to be a nuisance; and the only expedient hitherto devised by the civil government to reduce their numbers, is once in each year to offer a reward for their destruction, when the Tamils and Malays pursue them in the streets with clubs (guns being forbidden by the police for fear of accidents), and the unresisting dogs are beaten to death on the side-paths and door-steps where they had been taught to resort for food. Lord Torrington, during his government of Ceylon, attempted the more civilised experiment of putting some check on their numbers, by imposing a dog-tax, the effect of which would have been to lead to the drowning of puppies; whereas there is reason to believe that dogs [pg 34] are at present bred by the horse-keepers to be killed for sake of the reward.

The Pariahs of Colombo exhibit something of the same instinct, by which the dogs in other eastern cities partition the towns into districts, each apportioned to a separate pack, by whom it is jealously guarded from the encroachments of all intruders. Travellers at Cairo and Constantinople are often startled at night by the racket occasioned by the demonstrations made by the rightful possessors of a locality in repelling its invasion by some straggling wanderer. At Alexandria, in 1844, the dogs had multiplied to such an inconvenient extent, that Mehemet Ali, to abate the nuisance, caused them to be shipped in boats and conveyed to one of the islands at the mouth of the Nile. But the streets, thus deprived of their habitual patroles, were speedily infested by dogs from the suburbs, in such numbers that the evil became greater than before, and in the following year, the legitimate denizens were recalled from their exile in the Delta, and speedily drove back the intruders within their original boundary. May not this disposition of the dog be referable to the impulse by which, in a state of nature, each pack appropriates its own hunting-fields within a particular area? and may not the impulse which, even in a state of domestication, they still manifest to attack a passing dog upon the road, be a remnant of this localised instinct, and a concomitant dislike of intrusion?

Jackal.—The Jackal 37 in the low country of Ceylon hunts thus in packs, headed by a leader, and these audacious prowlers have been seen to assault and pull [pg 35] down a deer. The small number of hares in the districts they infest is ascribed to their depredations. In the legends of the natives, and in the literature of the Buddhists, the jackal in Ceylon is as essentially the type of cunning as the fox is the emblem of craft and adroitness in the traditions of Europe. In fact, it is more than doubtful whether the jackal of the East be not the creature alluded to, in the various passages of the Sacred Writings which make allusion to the artfulness and subtlety of the "fox."

These faculties they display in a high degree in their hunting expeditions, especially in the northern portions of the island, where they are found in the greatest numbers. In these districts, where the wide sandy plains are thinly covered with brushwood, the face of the country is diversified by patches of thick jungle and detached groups of trees, that form insulated groves and topes. At dusk, or after nightfall, a pack of jackals, having watched a hare or a small deer take refuge in one of these retreats, immediately surround it on all sides; and having stationed a few to watch the path by which the game entered, the leader commences the attack by raising the unearthly cry peculiar to their race, and which resembles the sound okkay! loudly and rapidly repeated. The whole party then rush into the jungle, and drive out the victim, which generally falls into the ambush previously laid to entrap it.

A native gentleman 38 , who had favourable opportunities of observing the movements of these animals, informed me, that when a jackal has brought down his game and killed it, his first impulse is to hide it in the nearest jungle, whence he issues with an air of easy indifference [pg 36] to observe whether anything more powerful than himself may be at hand, from which he might encounter the risk of being despoiled of his capture. If the coast be clear, he returns to the concealed carcase, and carries it away, followed by his companions. But if a man be in sight, or any other animal to be avoided, my informant has seen the jackal seize a coco-nut husk in his mouth, or any similar substance, and fly at full speed, as if eager to carry off his pretended prize, returning for the real booty at some more convenient season.

They are subject to hydrophobia, and instances are frequent in Ceylon of cattle being bitten by them and dying in consequence.


An excrescence is sometimes found on the head of the jackal, consisting of a small horny cone about half an inch in length, and concealed by a tuft of hair. This the natives call narrie-comboo; and they aver that this "Jackal's Horn" only grows on the head of the leader of the pack. 39 Both the Singhalese and the Tamils regard it as a talisman, and believe that its fortunate [pg 37] possessor can command by its instrumentality the realisation of every wish, and that if stolen or lost by him, it will invariably return of its own accord. Those who have jewels to conceal rest in perfect security if along with them they can deposit a narri-comboo, fully convinced that its presence is an effectual safeguard against robbers.

One fabulous virtue ascribed to the narrie-comboo by the Singhalese is absurdly characteristic of their passion for litigation, as well as of their perceptions of the "glorious uncertainty of the law." It is the popular belief that the fortunate discoverer of a jackal's horn becomes thereby invincible in every lawsuit, and must irresistibly triumph over every opponent. A gentleman connected "with the Supreme Court of Colombo has repeated to me a circumstance, within his own knowledge, of a plaintiff who, after numerous defeats, eventually succeeded against his opponent by the timely acquisition of this invaluable charm. Before the final hearing of the cause, the mysterious horn was duly exhibited to his friends; and the consequence was, that the adverse witnesses, appalled by the belief that no one could possibly give judgment against a person so endowed, suddenly modified their previous evidence, and secured an unforeseen victory for the happy owner of the narrie-comboo!

The Mongoos.—Of the Mongoos or Ichneumon four species have been described; and one, that frequents the hills near Neuera-ellia 40 , is so remarkable from its bushy [pg 38] fur, that the invalid soldiers in the sanatarium there, to whom it is familiar, have given it the name of the "Ceylon Badger."


I have found universally that the natives of Ceylon attach no credit to the European story of the Mongoos (H. griseus) resorting to some plant, which no one has yet succeeded in identifying, as an antidote against the bite of the venomous serpents on which it preys: There is no doubt that, in its conflicts with the cobra de capello and other poisonous snakes, which it attacks with as little hesitation as the harmless ones, it may be seen occasionally to retreat, and even to retire into the jungle, and, it is added, to eat some vegetable; but a gentleman, who has been a frequent observer of its exploits, assures me that most usually the herb it resorted to was [pg 39] grass; and if this were not at hand, almost any other plant that grew near seemed equally acceptable. Hence has probably arisen the long list of plants, such as the Ophioxylon serpentinum and Ophiorhiza mungos, the Aristolochia Indica, the Mimosa octandria, and others, each of which has been asserted to be the ichneumon's specific; whilst their multiplicity is demonstrative of the non-existence of any one in particular on which the animal relies as an antidote. Were there any truth in the tale as regards the mongoos, it would be difficult to understand why creatures, such as the secretary bird and the falcon, and others, which equally destroy serpents, should be left defenceless, and the ichneumon alone provided with a prophylactic. Besides, were the ichneumon inspired by that courage which would result from the consciousness of security, it would be so indifferent to the bite of the serpent that we might conclude that, both in its approaches and its assault, it would be utterly careless as to the precise mode of its attack. Such, however, is far from being the case: and next to its audacity, nothing can be more surprising than the adroitness with which it escapes the spring of the snake under a due sense of danger, and the cunning with which it makes its arrangements to leap upon the back and fasten its teeth in the head of the cobra. It is this display of instinctive ingenuity that Lucan 41 celebrates where he paints the ichneumon diverting the attention of the asp, by the motion of his bushy tail, and then seizing it in the midst of its confusion:—

"Aspidas ut Pharias caudâ solertior hostis

Ludit, et iratas incertâ provocat umbrâ:

[pg 40]

Obliquusque caput vanas serpentis in auras

Effuse toto comprendit guttura morsu

Letiferam citra saniem; tunc irrita pestis

Exprimitur, faucesque fluunt pereunte veneno."

Pharsalia, lib. iv. v. 729.

The mystery of the mongoos and its antidote has been referred to the supposition that there may be some peculiarity in its organisation which renders it proof against the poison of the serpent. It remains for future investigation to determine how far this conjecture is founded in truth; and whether in the blood of the mongoos there exists any element or quality which acts as a prophylactic. Such exceptional provisions are not without precedent in the animal oeconomy: the hornbill feeds with impunity on the deadly fruit of the strychnos; the milky juice of some species of euphorbia, which is harmless to oxen, is invariably fatal to the zebra; and the tsetse fly, the pest of South Africa, whose bite is mortal to the ox, the dog, and the horse, is harmless to man and the untamed creatures of the forest. 42

The Singhalese distinguish one species of mongoos, which they designate "Hotambeya" and which they assert never preys upon serpents. A writer in the Ceylon Miscellany mentions, that they are often to be seen "crossing rivers and frequently mud-brooks near Chilaw; the adjacent thickets affording them shelter, and their food consisting of aquatic reptiles, crabs, and mollusca." 43

[pg 41]
Flying Squirrel FLYING SQUIRREL.

IV. RODENTIA. Squirrels.—Smaller animals in great numbers enliven the forests and lowland plains with their graceful movements. Squirrels 44 , of which there are a great variety, make their shrill metallic call heard [pg 42] at early morning in the woods; and when sounding their note of warning on the approach of a civet or a tree-snake, the ears tingle with the loud trill of defiance, which rings as clear and rapid as the running down of an alarum, and is instantly caught up and re-echoed from every side by their terrified playmates.

One of the largest, belonging to a closely allied subgenus, is known as the "Flying Squirrel," 45 from its being assisted, in its prodigious leaps from tree to tree, by a parachute formed by the skin of the flanks, which, on the extension of the limbs front and rear, is laterally expanded from foot to foot. Thus buoyed up in its descent, the spring which it is enabled to make from one lofty tree to another resembles the flight of a bird rather than the bound of a quadruped.

Of these pretty creatures there are two species, one common to Ceylon and India, the other (Sciuropterus Layardii, Kelaart) is peculiar to the island, and by far the most beautiful of the family.

Rats.—Among the multifarious inhabitants to which the forest affords at once a home and provender is the tree rat 46 , which forms its nest on the branches, and by turns makes its visits to the dwellings of the natives, frequenting the ceilings in preference to the lower parts of houses. Here it is incessantly followed by the rat-snake 47 , whose domestication is encouraged by the servants, [pg 43] in consideration of its services in destroying vermin. I had one day an opportunity of surprising a snake that had just seized on a rat of this description, and of covering it suddenly with a glass shade, before it had time to swallow its prey. The serpent, appeared stunned by its own capture, and allowed the rat to escape from its jaws, which cowered at one side of the glass in the most pitiable state of trembling terror. The two were left alone for some moments, and on my return to them the snake was as before in the same attitude of sullen stupor. On setting them at liberty, the rat bounded towards the nearest fence; but quick as lightning it was followed by its pursuer, which seized it before it could gain the hedge, through which I saw the snake glide with its victim in its jaws. In parts of the central province, at Oovah and Bintenne, the house-rat is eaten as a common article of food. The Singhalese believe it and the mouse to be liable to hydrophobia.

Another indigenous variety of the rat is that which made its appearance for the first time in the coffee plantations on the Kandyan hills in the year 1847; and in such swarms does it continue to infest them, at intervals, that as many as a thousand have been killed in a single day on one estate. In order to reach the buds and blossoms of the coffee, it cuts such of the slender branches as would not sustain its weight, and feeds on them when fallen to the ground; and so delicate and sharp are its incisors, that the twigs thus destroyed are detached by as clean a cut as if severed with a knife.

The coffee-rat 48 is an insular variety of the Mus hirsutus of W. Elliot, found in Southern India. They inhabit [pg 44] the forests, making their nests among the roots of the trees, and feeding, in the season, on the ripe seeds of the nilloo. Like the lemmings of Norway and Lapland, they migrate in vast numbers on the occurrence of a scarcity of their ordinary food. The Malabar coolies are so fond of their flesh, that they evince a preference for those districts in which the coffee plantations are subject to their incursions, where they fry the rats in coco-nut oil, or convert them into curry.


Bandicoot.—Another favourite article of food with the coolies is the pig-rat or Bandicoot 49 , which attains on those hills the weight of two or three pounds, and grows to nearly the length of two feet. As it feeds on grain and roots, its flesh is said to be delicate, and much resembling young pork.

[pg 45]

Its nests, when rifled, are frequently found to contain considerable quantities of rice, stored up against the dry season.


Porcupine.—The Porcupine 50 is another of the rodentia which has drawn down upon itself the hostility of the planters, from its destruction of the young coconut palms, to which it is a pernicious and persevering, but withal so crafty, a visitor, that it is with difficulty any trap can be so disguised, or any bait made so alluring, as to lead to its capture. The usual expedient in Ceylon is to place some of its favourite food at the extremity of a trench, so narrow as to prevent the porcupine turning, whilst the direction of his quills effectually bars his retreat backwards. On a newly planted coconut tope, at Hang-welle, within a few miles of Colombo, [pg 46] I have heard of as many as twenty-seven being thus captured in a single night; but such success is rare. The more ordinary expedient is to smoke them out by burning straw at the apertures of their burrows. At Ootacamund, on the continent of the Dekkan, spring-guns have been used with great success by the Superintendent of the Horticultural Gardens; placing them so as to sweep the runs of the porcupines. The flesh is esteemed a delicacy in Ceylon, and in consistency, colour, and flavour it very much resembles young pork.

V. EDENTATA. Pengolin.—Of the Edentata the only example in Ceylon is the scaly ant-eater, called by the Singhalese, Caballaya, but usually known by its Malay name of Pengolin 51 , a word indicative of its faculty, when alarmed, of "rolling itself up" into a compact ball, by bending its head towards its stomach, arching its back into a circle, and securing all by a powerful fold of its mail-covered tail. The feet of the pengolin are armed with powerful claws, which in walking they double in, like the ant-eater of Brazil. These they use in extracting their favourite food from ant-hills and decaying wood. When at liberty, they burrow in the dry ground to a depth of seven or eight feet, where they reside in pairs, and produce annually one or two young. 52

Of two specimens which I kept alive at different times, one, about two feet in length, from the vicinity of Kandy, was a gentle and affectionate creature, which, [pg 47] after wandering over the house in search of ants, would attract attention to its wants by climbing up my knee, laying hold of my leg with its prehensile tail. The other, more than double that length, was caught in the jungle near Chilaw, and brought to me in Colombo. I had always understood that the pengolin was unable to climb trees; but the one last mentioned frequently ascended a tree in my garden, in search of ants; and this it effected by means of its hooked feet, aided by an oblique grasp of the tail. The ants it seized by extending its round and glutinous tongue along their tracks; and in the stomach of one which was opened after death, I found a quantity of small stones and gravel, which had been taken to facilitate digestion. In both specimens in my possession the scales of the back [pg 48] were a cream-coloured white, with a tinge of red in that which came from Chilaw, probably acquired by the insinuation of the Cabook dust which abounds along the western coast of the island.


Of the habits of the pengolin I found that very little was known by the natives, who regard it with aversion, one name given to it being the "Negombo Devil." Those kept by me were, generally speaking, quiet during the day, and grew restless and active as evening and night approached. Both had been taken near rocks, in the hollows of which they had their dwelling, but owing to their slow power of motion, they were unable to reach their hiding place when overtaken. When frightened, they rolled themselves instantly into a rounded ball; and such was the powerful force of muscle, that the strength of a man was insufficient to uncoil it. In reconnoitring they made important use of the tail, resting upon it and their hind legs, and holding themselves nearly erect, to command a view of their object. The strength of this powerful limb will be perceived from the accompanying drawing of [pg 49] the skeleton of the Manis; in which it will be seen that the tail is equal in length to all the rest of the body, whilst the vertebræ which compose it are stronger by far than those of the back.

From the size and position of the bones of the leg, the pengolin is endued with prodigious power; and its faculty of exerting this vertically, was displayed in overturning heavy cases, by insinuating itself under them, between the supports, by which it is customary in Ceylon to raise trunks a few inches above the floor, in order to prevent the attacks of white ants.

VI. RUMINANTIA. The Gaur.—Besides the deer, and some varieties of the humped ox, that have been introduced from the opposite continent of India, Ceylon has probably but one other indigenous bovine ruminant, the buffalo. 53 There is a tradition that the gaur, found in the extremity of the Indian peninsula, was at one period a native of the Kandyan Mountains; but as Knox speaks of one which in his time "was kept among the king's creatures" at Kandy 54 , and his account of it tallies with that of the Bos Gaurus of Hindustan, it would appear even then to have been a rarity. A place between Neuera-ellia and Adam's Peak bears the name of "Gowra-ellia," and it is not impossible that the animal may yet be discovered in some of the imperfectly explored regions of the island. 55 I have heard of an instance in which a very old Kandyan, residing in the mountains near the Horton Plains, asserted that when young he had seen what he believed to have been a gaur, and he described it as between an elk and a buffalo in size, [pg 50] dark brown in colour, and very scantily provided with hair.

Oxen.—Oxen are used by the peasantry both in ploughing and in tempering the mud in the wet paddi fields before sowing the rice; and when the harvest is reaped they "tread out the corn," after the immemorial custom of the East. The wealth of the native chiefs and landed proprietors frequently consists in their herds of bullocks, which they hire out to their dependents during the seasons for agricultural labour; and as they already supply them with land to be tilled, and lend the seed which is to crop it, the further contribution of this portion of the labour serves to render the dependence of the peasantry on the chiefs and headmen complete.

The cows are often worked as well as the oxen; and as the calves are always permitted to suck them, milk is an article which the traveller can rarely hope to procure in a Kandyan village. From their constant exposure at all seasons, the cattle in Ceylon, both those employed in agriculture and those on the roads, are subject to devastating murrains, that sweep them away by thousands. So frequent is the recurrence of these calamities, and so extended their ravages, that they exercise a serious influence upon the commercial interests of the colony, by reducing the facilities of agriculture, and augmenting the cost of carriage during the most critical periods of the coffee harvest.

A similar disorder, probably peripneumonia, frequently carries off the cattle in Assam and other hill countries on the continent of India; and there, as in Ceylon, the inflammatory symptoms in the lungs and throat, and the internal derangement and external [pg 51] eruptive appearances, seem to indicate that the disease is a feverish influenza, attributable to neglect and exposure in a moist and variable climate; and that its prevention might be hoped for, and the cattle preserved, by the simple expedient of more humane and considerate treatment, especially by affording them cover at night.

During my residence in Ceylon an incident occurred at Neuera-ellia, which invested one of these pretty animals with an heroic interest. A little cow, belonging to an English gentleman, was housed, together with her calf, near the dwelling of her owner, and being aroused during the night by her furious bellowing, the servants, on hastening to the stall, found her goring a leopard, which had stolen in to attack the calf. She had got it into a corner, and whilst lowing incessantly to call for help, she continued to pound it with her horns. The wild animal, apparently stupified by her unexpected violence, was detained by her till despatched by a bullet.

The number of bullock-carts encountered between Colombo and Kandy, laden with coffee from the interior, or carrying up rice and stores for the supply of the plantations in the hill-country, is quite surprising. The oxen thus employed on this single road, about seventy miles long, are estimated at upwards of twenty thousand. The bandy to which they are yoked is a barbarous two-wheeled waggon, with a covering of plaited coco-nut leaves, in which a pair of strong bullocks will draw from five to ten hundred weight, according to the nature of the country; and with this load on a level they will perform a journey of twenty miles a day.

A few of the large humped cattle of India are annually [pg 52] imported for draught; but the vast majority of those in use are small and dark-coloured, with a graceful head and neck, and elevated hump, a deep silky dewlap, and limbs as slender as a deer. They appear to have neither the strength nor weight requisite for this service; and yet the entire coffee crop of Ceylon, amounting annually to upwards of half a million hundred weight, is year after year brought down from the mountains to the coast by these indefatigable little creatures, which, on returning, carry up proportionally heavy loads, of rice and implements for the estates. 56 There are two varieties of the native bullock; one a somewhat coarser animal, of a deep red colour; the other, the high-bred black one I have just described. So rare was a white one of this species, under the native kings, that the Kandyans were compelled to set them apart for the royal herd. 57

Although bullocks may be said to be the only animals of draught and burden in Ceylon (horses being rarely used except in spring carriages), no attempt has been made to improve the breed, or even to better the condition and treatment of those in use. Their food is indifferent, pasture in all parts of the island being rare, and cattle are seldom housed under any vicissitudes of weather.

The labour for which they are best adapted, and in which, before the opening of roads, these cattle were formerly employed, is in traversing the jungle paths of [pg 53] the interior, carrying light loads as pack-oxen in what is called a "tavalam"—a term which, substituting bullocks for camels, is equivalent to a "caravan." 58 The class of persons engaged in this traffic in Ceylon resemble in their occupations the "Banjarees" of Hindustan, who bring down to the coast corn, cotton, and oil, and take back to the interior cloths and iron and copper utensils. In the unopened parts of the island, and especially in the eastern provinces, this primitive practice still continues. When travelling in these districts I have often encountered long files of pack-bullocks toiling along the mountain paths, their bells tinkling musically as they moved; or halting during the noonday heat beside some stream in the forests, their burdens piled in heaps near the drivers, who had lighted their cooking fires, whilst the bullocks were permitted to bathe and browse.

The persons engaged in this wandering trade are chiefly Moors, and the business carried on by them consists in bringing up salt from the government depots on the coast to be bartered with the Kandyans in the hills for "native coffee," which is grown in small quantities round every house, but without systematic cultivation. This they carry down to the maritime towns, and the proceeds are invested in cotton cloths and brass utensils, dried fish, and other commodities, with which the tavalams supply the secluded villages of the interior.

[pg 54]

The Buffalo.—Buffaloes abound in all parts of Ceylon, but they are only to be seen in their native wildness in the vast solitudes of the northern and eastern provinces, where rivers, lagoons, and dilapidated tanks abound. In these they delight to immerse themselves, till only their heads appear above the surface; or, enveloped in mud to protect themselves from the assaults of insects, they luxuriate in the long sedges by the water margins. When the buffalo is browsing, a crow will frequently be seen stationed on its back, engaged in freeing it from the ticks and other pests which attach themselves to its leathery hide, the smooth brown surface of which, unprotected by hair, shines with an unpleasant polish in the sunlight. When in motion a buffalo throws back its clumsy head till the huge horns rest on its shoulders, and the nose is presented in a line with the eyes.

The temper of the wild buffalo is morose and uncertain, and such is its strength and courage that in the Hindu epic of the Ramayana its onslaught is compared to that of the tiger. 59 It is never quite safe to approach them, if disturbed in their pasture or alarmed from their repose in the shallow lakes. On such occasions they hurry into line, draw up in defensive array, with a few of the oldest bulls in advance; and, wheeling in circles, their horns clashing with a loud sound as they clank them together in their rapid evolutions, they prepare for attack; but generally, after a menacing display the herd betake themselves to flight; then forming again at a safer distance, they halt as before, elevating their nostrils, and throwing back their heads to take a defiant survey of the intruders. The true sportsman rarely molests them, so huge a creature affording no worthy mark for [pg 55] his skill, and their wanton slaughter adds nothing to the supply of food for their assailant.

In the Hambangtotte country, where the Singhalese domesticate buffaloes, and use them to assist in the labour of the rice lands, the villagers are much annoyed by the wild ones, that mingle with the tame when sent out to the woods to pasture; and it constantly happens that a savage stranger, placing himself at the head of the tame herd, resists the attempts of the owners to drive them homewards at sunset. In the districts of Putlam and the Seven Corles, buffaloes are generally used for draught; and in carrying heavy loads of salt from the coast towards the interior, they drag a cart over roads which would defy the weaker strength of bullocks.

In one place between Batticaloa and Trincomalie I found the natives making an ingenious use of them when engaged in shooting water-fowl in the vast salt marshes and muddy lakes. Being an object to which the birds are accustomed, the Singhalese train the buffalo to the sport, and, concealed behind, the animal browsing listlessly along, they guide it by ropes attached to its horns, and thus creep undiscovered within shot of the flock. The same practice prevails, I believe, in some of the northern parts of India, where they are similarly trained to assist the sportsman in approaching deer. One of these "sporting buffaloes" sells for a considerable sum.

In the thick forests which cover the Passdun Corle, to the east, and south of Caltura, the natives use the sporting buffalo in another way, to assist in hunting deer and wild hogs. A bell is attached to its neck, and [pg 56] a box or basket with one side open is securely strapped on its back. This at nightfall is lighted by flambeaux of wax, and the buffalo bearing it, is driven slowly into the jungle. The huntsmen, with their fowling pieces, keep close under the darkened side, and as it moves slowly onwards, the wild animals, startled by the sound, and bewildered by the light, steal cautiously towards it in stupified fascination. Even the snakes, I am assured, will be attracted by this extraordinary object; and the leopard too falls a victim to curiosity.

There is a peculiarity in the formation of the buffalo's foot, which, though it must have attracted attention, I have never seen mentioned by naturalists. It is equivalent to the arrangement which distinguishes the foot of the reindeer from that of the stag and the antelope. In the latter, the hoofs, being constructed for lightness and flight, are compact and vertical; but, in the reindeer, the joints of the tarsal bones admit of lateral expansion, and the front hoofs curve upwards, while the two secondary ones behind (which are but slightly developed in the fallow deer and others of the same family) are prolonged vertically till, in certain positions, they are capable of being applied to the ground, thus adding to the circumference and sustaining power of the foot. It has been usually suggested as the probable design of this structure, that it is to enable the reindeer to shovel away the snow in order to reach the lichens beneath it; but I apprehend that another use of it has been overlooked, that of facilitating its movements in search of food by increasing the difficulty of its sinking in the snow.

A formation precisely analogous in the buffalo seems to point to a corresponding design. The ox, whose life [pg 57] is spent on firm ground, has the bones of the foot so constructed as to afford the most solid support to an animal of its great weight; but in the buffalo, which delights in the morasses on the margins of pools and rivers, the construction of the foot resembles that of the reindeer. The tarsi in front extend almost horizontally from the upright bones of the leg, and spread apart widely on touching the ground; the hoofs are flattened and broad, with the extremities turned upwards; and the false hoofs behind descend till they make a clattering sound as the animal walks. In traversing the marshes, this combination of abnormal incidents serves to give extraordinary breadth to the foot, and not only prevents the buffalo from sinking inconveniently in soft ground 60 , but at the same time presents no obstacle to the withdrawal of its foot from the mud.

The buffalo, like the elk, is sometimes found in Ceylon as an albino, with purely white hair and a pink iris.

Deer.—"Deer," says the truthful old chronicler, Robert Knox, "are in great abundance in the woods, from the largeness of a cow to the smallness of a hare, for here is a creature in this land no bigger than the latter, though every part rightly resembleth a deer: it is called meminna, of a grey colour, with white spots and good meat." 61 The little creature which thus dwelt in the recollection of the old man, as one of the memorials [pg 58] of his long captivity, is the small "musk deer" 62 so called in India, although neither sex is provided with a musk-bag. The Europeans in Ceylon know it by the name of the "moose deer;" and in all probability the terms musk and moose are both corruptions of the Dutch word "muis," or "mouse" deer, a name particularly applicable to the timid and crouching attitudes and aspect of this beautiful little creature. Its extreme length never reaches two feet; and of those which were domesticated about my house, few exceeded ten inches in height, their graceful limbs being of proportionate delicacy. It possesses long and extremely large tusks, with which it can inflict a severe bite. The interpreter moodliar of Negombo had a milk white meminna in 1847, which he designed to send home as an acceptable [pg 59] present to Her Majesty, but it was unfortunately killed by an accident. 63


Ceylon Elk.—In the mountains, the Ceylon elk 64 , which reminds one of the red deer of Scotland, attains the height of four or five feet; it abounds in all shady places that are intersected by rivers; where, though its chase affords an endless resource to the sportsman, its venison scarcely equals in quality the inferior beef of the lowland ox. In the glades and park-like openings that diversify the great forests of the interior, the spotted Axis troops in herds as numerous as the fallow deer in England: but, in journeys through the jungle, when often dependent on the guns of our party for the precarious supply of the table, we found the flesh of the Axis 65 and the Muntjac 66 a sorry substitute for that of the pea-fowl, the jungle-cock, and flamingo. The occurrence of albinos is very frequent in troops of the axis. Deer's horns are an article of export from Ceylon, and considerable quantities are annually sent to the United Kingdom.

VII. PACHYDERMATA.—The Elephant.—The elephant, and the wild boar, the Singhalese "waloora," 67 are the only representatives of the pachydermatous order. The latter, which differs somewhat from the wild boar of [pg 60] India, is found in droves in all parts of the island where vegetation and water are abundant.

The elephant, the lord paramount of the Ceylon forests, is to be met with in every district, on the confines of the woods, in the depths of which he finds concealment and shade during the hours when the sun is high, and from which he emerges only at twilight to wend his way towards the rivers and tanks, where he luxuriates till dawn, when he again seeks the retirement of the deep forests. This noble animal fills so dignified a place both in the zoology and oeconomy of Ceylon, and his habits in a state of nature have been so much misunderstood, that I shall devote a separate section to his defence from misrepresentation, and to an exposition of what, from observation and experience, I believe to be his genuine character when free in his native domains. But this seems the proper place to allude to a recent discovery in connexion with the elephant, which strikingly confirms a conjecture which I ventured to make elsewhere 68 , relative to the isolation of Ceylon and its distinctness, in many remarkable particulars, from the great continent of India. Every writer who previously treated of the island, including the accomplished Dr. Davy and the erudite Lassen, was contented, by a glance at its outline and a reference to its position on the map, to assume that Ceylon was a fragment, which in a very remote age had been torn from the adjacent mainland, by some convulsion of nature. Hence it was taken for granted that the vegetation which covers and the races of animals which inhabit it, must be identical with those of Hindustan; to which [pg 61] Ceylon was alleged to bear the same relation as Sicily presents to the peninsula of Italy. MALTE BRUN 69 and the geographers generally, declared the larger animals of either to be common to both. I was led to question the soundness of this dictum;—and from a closer examination of its geological conformation and of its botanical and zoological characteristics I came to the conclusion that not only is there an absence of sameness between the formations of the two localities; but that plants and animals, mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects exist in Ceylon, which are not to be found in the flora and fauna of the Dekkan; but which present a striking affinity, and occasionally an actual identity, with those of the Malayan countries and some of the islands of the Eastern Archipelago. Startling as this conclusion appeared to be, it was strangely in unison with the legends of the Singhalese themselves, that at an infinitely remote period Ceylon formed an integral portion of a vast continent, known in the mythical epics of the Brahmans by the designation of "Lanka;" so immense that its southern extremity fell below the equator, whilst in breadth it was prolonged till its western and eastern boundaries touch at once upon the shores of Africa and China.

Dim as is this ancient tradition, it is in consistency with the conclusions of modern geology, that at the commencement of the tertiary period northern Asia and a considerable part of India were in all probability covered by the sea but that south of India land extended eastward and westward connecting Malacca with Arabia. PROFESSOR ANSTED has propounded this view. His opinion is, that the Himalayas then existed only as a chain of islands, and did not till a much later age become [pg 62] elevated into mountain ranges,—a change which took place during the same revolution that raised the great plains of Siberia and Tartary and many parts of north-western Europe. At the same time the great continent whose position between the tropics has been alluded to, and whose previous existence is still indicated by the Coral islands, the Laccadives, the Maldives, and the Chagos group, underwent simultaneous depression by a counteracting movement. 70

But divested of oriental mystery and geologic conjecture, and brought to the test of "geographical distribution," this once prodigious continent would appear to have connected the distant Islands of Ceylon and Sumatra and possibly to have united both to the Malay peninsula, from which the latter is now severed by the Straits of Malacca. The proofs of physical affinity between these scattered localities are exceedingly curious.

A striking dissimilarity presents itself between some of the Mammalia of Ceylon and those of the continent of India. In its general outline and feature, this branch of the island fauna, no doubt, exhibits a general resemblance to that of the mainland, although many of the larger animals of the latter are unknown in Ceylon: but, on the other hand, some species discovered there are peculiar to the island. A deer 71 as large as the Axis, but differing from it in the number and arrangement of its spots, has been described by Dr. Kelaart, to whose vigilance the natural history of Ceylon is indebted, amongst others, for the identification of two new species of monkeys 72 , a number of curious shrews 73 , [pg 63] and an orange-coloured ichneumon 74 , before unknown. There are also two squirrels 75 that have not as yet been discovered elsewhere, (one of them belonging to those equipped with a parachute 76 ,) as well as some local varieties of the palm squirrel (Sciurus penicillatus, Leach). 77

But the Ceylon Mammalia, besides wanting a number of minor animals found in the Indian peninsula, cannot boast such a ruminant as the majestic Gaur 78 , which inhabits the great forests from Cape Comorin to the Himalaya; and, providentially, the island is equally free of the formidable tiger and the ferocious wolf of Hindustan. The Hyena and Cheetah 79 , common in Southern India, are unknown in Ceylon; and, though abundant in deer, the island possesses no example of the Antelope or the Gazelle.

Amongst the Birds of Ceylon, the same abnormity is apparent. About thirty-eight species will be presently particularised 80 , which, although some of them may hereafter be discovered to have a wider geographical range, are at present believed to be unknown in continental India. I might further extend this enumeration, by including the Cheela eagle of Ceylon, which, although I have placed it in my list as identical with the Hematornis cheela of the Dekkan, is, I have since been assured, a different bird, and is most probably the Falco bido of [pg 64] Horsfield, known to us by specimens obtained from Java and Sumatra.

As to the Fishes of Ceylon, they are of course less distinct; and besides they have hitherto been very imperfectly compared. But the Insects afford a remarkable confirmation of the view I have ventured to propound; so much so that Mr. Walker, by whom the elaborate lists appended to this work have been prepared, asserts that some of the families have a less affinity to the entomology of India than to that of Australia. 81

But more conclusive than all, is the discovery to which I have alluded, in relation to the elephant of Ceylon. Down to a very recent period it was universally believed that only two species of the elephant are now in existence, the African and the Asiatic; distinguished by certain peculiarities in the shape of the cranium, the size of the ears, the ridges of the teeth, the number of vertebræ, and, according to Cuvier, in the number of nails on the hind feet. The elephant of Ceylon was believed to be identical with the elephant of India. But some few years back, TEMMINCK, in his survey of the Dutch possessions in the Indian Archipelago 82 , announced the fact that the elephant which abounds in Sumatra (although unknown in the adjacent island of Java), and which had theretofore been regarded as the same species with the Indian one, has been recently found to possess peculiarities, in which it differs as much from the elephant of India, as the latter from its African congener. On this new species of elephant, to which the natives give the name of gadjah, TEMMINCK has conferred the scientific designation of the Elephas Sumatranus.

[pg 65]

The points which entitle it to this distinction he enumerated minutely in the work 83 before alluded to, but they have been summarized as follows by Prince Lucien Bonaparte.

"This species is perfectly intermediate between the Indian and African, especially in the shape of the skull, and will certainly put an end to the distinction between Elephas and Loxodon, with those who admit that anatomical genus; since although the crowns of the teeth of E. Sumatranus are more like the Asiatic animal, still the less numerous undulated ribbons of enamel are nearly quite as wide as those forming the lozenges of the African. The number of pairs of false ribs (which alone vary, the true ones being always six) is fourteen, one less than in the Africanus, one more than in the Indicus; and so it is with the dorsal vertebræ, which are twenty in the Sumatranus (twenty-one and nineteen, in the others), whilst the new species agrees with Africanus in the number of sacral vertebræ (four), and with Indicus in that of the caudal ones, which are thirty-four." 84

[pg 66]

PROFESSOR SCHLEGEL of Leyden, in a paper lately submitted by him to the Royal Academy of Sciences of Holland, (the substance of which he has obligingly communicated to me, through Baron Bentinck the Netherlands Minister at this Court), has confirmed the identity of the Ceylon elephant with that found in the Lampongs of Sumatra. The osteological comparison of which TEMMINCK has given the results was, he says, conducted by himself with access to four skeletons of the latter. And the more recent opportunity of comparing a living Sumatran elephant with one from Bengal, has served to establish other though minor points of divergence. The Indian species is more robust and powerful: the proboscis longer and more slender; and the extremity, (a point, in which the elephant of Sumatra resembles that of Africa,) is more flattened and provided with coarser and longer hair than that of India.

PROFESSOR SCHLEGEL, adverting to the large export of elephants from Ceylon to the Indian continent, which has been carried on from time immemorial, suggests the caution with which naturalists, in investigating this question, should first satisfy themselves whether the elephants they examine are really natives of the mainland, [pg 67] or whether they have been brought to it from the islands. 85 "The extraordinary fact," he observes in his letter to me, "of the identity thus established between the elephants of Ceylon and Sumatra; and the points in which they are found to differ from that of Bengal, leads to the question whether all the elephants of the Asiatic continent belong to one single species; or whether these vast regions may not produce in some quarter as yet unexplored the one hitherto found only in the two islands referred to? It is highly desirable that naturalists who have the means and opportunity, should exert themselves to discover, whether any traces are to be found of the Ceylon elephant in the Dekkan; or of that of Sumatra in Cochin China or Siam."

To me the establishment of a fact so conclusively confirmatory of the theory I had ventured to broach, is productive of great satisfaction. But it is not a little remarkable that the distinction should not long before have been discovered between the elephant of India and that of Ceylon. Nor can it be regarded otherwise than as a singular illustration of "geographical distribution" that two remote islands should be thus shown to possess in common a species unknown in any other quarter of the globe. As bearing on the ancient myth which represents both countries as forming parts of a submerged continent, the discovery is curious—and it is equally interesting in connection with the circumstance alluded to by Gibbon, that amongst the early geographers and even down to a comparatively modern date, Sumatra and Ceylon were confounded; and grave doubts were entertained as to which of the two was the "Taprobane" of antiquity. GEMMA FRISIUS, SEBASTIAN MUNSTER, JULIUS SCALIGER, ORTELIUS and MERCATOR contended for the former; SALMASIUS, BOCHART, CLUVERIUS, and VOSSIUS for Ceylon: and the controversy did not cease till it was terminated by DELISLE about the beginning of the last century.

[pg 68]

VIII. CETACEA.—Whales are so frequently seen that they have been captured within sight of Colombo, and more than once their carcases, after having been flinched by the whalers, have floated on shore near the lighthouse, tainting the atmosphere within the fort by their rapid decomposition.

Of this family, one of the most remarkable animals on the coast is the dugong 86 , a phytophagous cetacean, numbers of which are attracted to the inlets, from the bay of Calpentyn to Adam's Bridge, by the still water and the abundance of marine algæ in these parts of the gulf. One which was killed at Manaar and sent to me to Colombo 87 in 1847, measured upwards of seven feet in length; but specimens considerably larger have been taken at Calpentyn, and their flesh is represented as closely resembling veal.

The rude approach to the human outline, observed in the shape of the head of this creature, and the attitude of the mother when suckling her young, clasping it to her breast with one flipper, while swimming with the other, holding the heads of both above water; and when disturbed, suddenly diving and displaying her fish-like tail,—these, together with her habitual demonstrations of strong maternal affection, probably gave rise to the fable of the "mermaid;" and thus that earliest invention of mythical physiology may be traced to the Arab seamen and the Greeks, who had watched the movements of the dugong in the waters of Manaar.

[pg 69]

Megasthenes records the existence of a creature in the ocean, near Taprobane, with the aspect of a woman 88 ; and Ælian, adopting and enlarging on his information, peoples the seas of Ceylon with fishes having the heads of lions, panthers, and rams, and, stranger still, cetaceans in the form of satyrs. Statements such as these must have had their origin in the hairs, which are set round the mouth of the dugong, somewhat resembling a beard, which Ælian and Megasthenes both particularise, from their resemblance to the hair of a woman: "[Greek: kai gynaikôn opsin echousin aisper anti plokamôn akanthai prosêrtêntai"] 89

[pg 70]

The Portuguese cherished the belief in the mermaid, and the annalist of the exploits of the Jesuits in India, gravely records that seven of these monsters, male and female, were captured at Manaar in 1560, and carried to Goa, where they were dissected by Demas Bosquez, physician to the Viceroy, and "their internal structure found to be in all respects conformable to the human." 90

The Dutch were no less inclined to the marvellous, and they propagated the belief in the mermaid with earnestness and particularity. VALENTYN, one of their chaplains, in his account of the Natural History of Amboina, embodied in his great work on the Netherlands' Possessions in India, published so late as 1727 91 , has devoted the first section of his chapter on the Fishes of that island to a minute description of the "Zee-Menschen, Zee-Wyven," and mermaids. As to the dugong he admits its resemblance to the mermaid, but repudiates the idea of its having given rise to the fable, by being mistaken for one. This error he imagines must have arisen at a time when observations on such matters were made with culpable laxity; but now more recent and minute attention has established the truth beyond cavil.

[pg 71]

For instance, he states that in 1653, when a lieutenant in the Dutch service was leading a party of soldiers along the sea-shore in Amboina, he and all his company saw the mermen swimming at a short distance from the beach with long and flowing hair, of a colour between gray and green—and six weeks afterwards, the creatures were again seen by him and more than fifty witnesses, at the same place, by clear daylight. 92

"If any narrative in the world," adds VALENTYN, "deserves credit, it is this; since not only one but two mermen together were seen by so many eye-witnesses. Should the stubborn world, however, hesitate to believe it, it matters nothing; as there are people who would even deny that such cities as Rome, Constantinople or Cairo, exist, merely because they themselves have not happened to see them."

But what are such incredulous persons, he continues, to make of the circumstance recorded by Albert Herport in his account of India 93 , that a sea-man was seen in the water near the Church of Taquan, on the morning of the 29th of April 1661, and a mermaid at the same spot the same afternoon?—or what do they say to the fact that in 1714, a mermaid was not only seen but captured near the island of Booro? "five feet Rhineland measure in height, which lived four days and seven hours, but refusing all food, died without leaving any intelligible account of herself."

Valentyn, in support of his own faith in the mermaid, cites numerous other instances in which both "sea-men and women" were seen and taken at Amboina; especially one by an office-bearer in the Church of Holland 94 , by whom it was surrendered to the Governor Vanderstel.

Of this well-authenticated specimen he gives an elaborate engraving amongst those of the authentic fishes of the island—together with a minute ichthyological description of each for the satisfaction of men of science.

[pg 72]

The fame of this creature having reached Europe, the British Minister in Holland wrote to Valentyn on the 28th December 1716, whilst the Emperor, Peter the Great of Russia, was his guest at Amsterdam; to communicate the desire of the Czar, that the mermaid should be brought home from Amboina for his Imperial inspection.

To complete his proofs of the existence of mermen and women, Valentyn points triumphantly to the historical fact, that in Holland in the year 1404, a mermaid was driven during a tempest, through a breach in the dyke of Edam, and was taken alive in the lake of Purmer. Thence she was carried to Harlem, where the Dutch women taught her to spin; and where, several years after, she died in the Roman Catholic faith;—"but this," [pg 73] says the pious Calvinistic chaplain, "in no way militates against the truth of her story." 95

Finally Valentyn winds up his proofs, by the accumulated testimony of Pliny 96 , Theodore Gaza, George of Trebisond, and Alexander ab Alexandro, to show that mermaids had in all ages been known in Gaul, Naples, Epirus, and the Morea. From these and a multitude of more modern instances he comes to the conclusion, that as there are "sea-cows," "sea-horses," and "sea-dogs;" as well as "sea-trees" and "sea-flowers" which he himself had seen, what grounds in reason are there to doubt that there may also be "sea-maidens" and "sea-men!"

List of Ceylon Mammalia.

A list of the Mammalia of Ceylon is subjoined. In framing it, as well as the lists appended to the other chapters on the Fauna of the island, the principal object in view has been to exhibit the extent to which the Natural History of the island had been investigated, and collections made up to the period of my leaving the colony in 1850. It has been considered expedient to exclude a few individuals which have not had the advantage of a direct comparison with authentic specimens, either at Calcutta or in England. This will account for the omission of a number that have appeared in other catalogues, but of which many, though ascertained to exist, have not been submitted to this rigorous process of identification.

[pg 74]

The greater portion of the species of mammals and birds contained in these lists will be found, with suitable references to the most accurate descriptions, in the admirable catalogue of the collection at the India House, published under the care of the late Dr. Horsfield. This work cannot be too highly extolled, not alone for the scrupulous fidelity with which the description of each species is referred to its first discoverer, but also for the pains which have been taken to elaborate synonymes and to collate from local periodicals and other sources, (little accessible to ordinary inquirers,) such incidents and traits as are calculated to illustrate characteristics and habits.










Dr. DAVY, brother to the illustrious Sir Humphry Davy, published, in 1821, his Account of the Interior of Ceylon and its Inhabitants, which contains the earliest notice of the Natural History of the island, and especially of its ophidian reptiles.


Journ. Asiat. Soc. Bengal, vol. xv. p. 280, 314.


Prodromus Faunæ Zeylanicæ; being Contributions to the Zoology of Ceylon, by F. KELAART, Esq., M.D., F.L.S., &c. &c. 2 vols. Colombo and London, 1852.


Macacus pileatus, Shaw and Desmarest. The "bonneted Macaque" is common in the south and west; it is replaced on the neighbouring coast of the Peninsula of India by the Toque, M. radiatus, which closely resembles it in size, habit, and form, and in the peculiar appearance occasioned by the hairs radiating from the crown of the head. A spectacled monkey is said to inhabit the low country near to Bintenne; but I have never seen one brought thence. A paper by Dr. TEMPLETON, in the Mag. Nat. Hist. n. s. xiv. p. 361, contains some interesting facts relative to the Rilawa of Ceylon.


KNOX, Historical Relation of Ceylon, an Island in the East Indies.—P. i. ch. vi. p. 25. Fol. Lond. 1681. See an account of his captivity in SIR J. EMERSON TENNENT'S Ceylon, etc., Vol. II. p. 66 n.


Down to a very late period, a large and somewhat repulsive-looking monkey, common to the Malabar coast, the Silenus veter, Linn., was, from the circumstance of his possessing a "great white beard," incorrectly assumed to be the "wanderoo" of Ceylon, described by KNOX; and under that usurped name it has figured in every author from Buffon to the present time. Specimens of the true Singhalese species were, however, received in Europe; but in the absence of information in this country as to their actual habitat, they were described, first by Zimmerman, on the continent, under the name of, Leucoprymnus cephalopterus, and subsequently by Mr. E. Bennett, under that of Semnopithecus Nestor (Proc. Zool. Soc. pt. i. p. 67: 1833); the generic and specific characters being on this occasion most carefully pointed out by that eminent naturalist. Eleven years later Dr. Templeton forwarded to the Zoological Society a description, accompanied by drawings, of the wanderoo of the western maritime districts of Ceylon, and noticed the fact that the wanderoo of authors (S. veter) was not to be found in the island except as an introduced species in the custody of the Arab horse-dealers, who visit the port of Colombo at stated periods. Mr. Waterhouse, at the meeting (Proc. Zool. Soc. p. 1: 1844) at which this communication was read, recognised the identity of the subject of Dr. Templeton's description with that already laid before them by Mr. Bennett; and from this period the species in question was believed to truly represent the wanderoo of Knox. The later discovery, however, of the P. ursinus by Dr. Kelaart, in the mountains amongst which we are assured that Knox spent so many years of captivity, reopens the question, but at the same time appears to me clearly to demonstrate that in this latter we have in reality the animal to which his narrative refers.


Leucoprymnus Nestor, Bennett.


KNOX, pt. i.e. vi. p. 25.


Eastern Monachism. c: xix; p. 204.


PLINY, Nat. Hist. I. viii. c. xxxii.


Mr. Blyth quotes as authority for this trivial name a passage from MAJOR FORBES' Eleven Years in Ceylon; and I can vouch for the graphic accuracy of the remark.—"A species of very large monkey, that passed some distance before me, when resting on all fours, looked so like a Ceylon bear, that I nearly took him for one."


BUCHANAN'S Survey of Bhagulpoor, p. 142. At Gibraltar it is believed that the body of a dead monkey has never been found on the rock.


Loris græilis, Geof.


There is an interesting notice of the Loris of Ceylon by Dr. TEMPLETON, in the Mag. Nat. Hist. 1844, ch. xiv. p. 362.


Pteropus Edwardsii, Geoff.


[Greek: cheir] the "hand," and [Greek: pteron] a "wing."


See BELL On the Hand, ch. iii. p. 70;


See article on Cheiroptera, in TODD'S Cyclopiadia of Anatomy and Physiology, vol. i. p. 599.


Those which I have examined have four minute incisors in each jaw, with two canines and a very minute pointed tooth behind each canine. They have six molars in the upper jaw and ten in the lower, longitudinally grooved, and with a cutting edge directed backwards.


Eriodendron Orientale, Stead.


In Western India the native Portuguese eat the flying-fox, and pronounce it delicate, and far from disagreeable in flavour.


It is a very small Singhalese variety of Scotophilus Coromandelicus, F. Cuv.


This extraordinary creature had formerly been discovered only on a few European bats. Joínville figured one which he found on the large roussette (the flying-fox), and says he had seen another on a bat of the same family. Dr. Templeton observed them in Ceylon in great abundance on the fur of the Scotophilus Coromandelicus, and they will, no doubt, be found on many others.


Celeripes vespertilionis, Mont. Lin. Trans. xi. p. 11.


Prochilus labiatus, Blainville.


Amongst the Singhalese there is a belief that certain charms are efficacious in protecting them from the violence of bears, and those whose avocations expose them to encounters of this kind are accustomed to carry a talisman either attached to their neck or enveloped in the folds of their luxuriant hair. A friend of mine, writing of an adventure which occurred at Anarajapoora, thus describes an occasion on which a Moor, who attended him, was somewhat, rudely disabused of his belief in the efficacy of charms upon bears:—"Desiring to change the position of a herd of deer, the Moorman (with his charm) was sent across some swampy land to disturb them. As he was proceeding, we saw him suddenly turn from an old tree and run back with all speed, his hair becoming unfastened and like his clothes streaming in the wind. It soon became evident that he was flying from some terrific object, for he had thrown down his gun, and, in his panic, he was taking the shortest line towards us, which lay across a swamp covered with sedge and rushes that greatly impeded his progress, and prevented us approaching him, or seeing what was the cause of his flight. Missing his steps from one hard spot to another he repeatedly fell into the water, but he rose and resumed his flight. I advanced as far as the sods would bear my weight, but to go further was impracticable. Just within ball-range there was an open space, and, as the man gained it. I saw that he was pursued by a bear and two cubs. As the person of the fugitive covered the bear, it was impossible to fire without risk. At last he fall exhausted, and the bear being close upon him, I discharged both barrels. The first broke the bear's shoulder, but this only made her more savage, and rising on her hind legs she advanced with ferocious prowls, when the second barrel, though I do not think it took effect, served to frighten her, for turning round she retreated, followed by the cubs. Some natives then waded through the mud to the Moorman, who was just exhausted, and would have been drowned but that he fell with his head upon a tuft of grass: the poor man was unable to speak, and for several weeks his intellect seemed confused. The adventure sufficed to satisfy him that he could not again depend upon a charm to protect him, from bears, though he always insisted that but for its having fallen from his hair where he had fastened it under his turban, the bear would not have ventured to attack him."


Felis pardus, Linn. What is called a leopard, or a cheetah, in Ceylon, is in reality the true panther.


A belief is prevalent at Trincomalie that a Bengal tiger inhabits the jungle in its vicinity; and the story runs that it escaped from the wreck of a vessel on which it had been embarked for England. Officers of the Government state positively that they have more than once come on it whilst hunting; and one gentleman of the Royal Engineers, who had seen it, assured me that he could not be mistaken as to its being a tiger of India, and one of the largest description.


Mr. BAKER, in his Eight Years in Ceylon, has stated that there are two species of leopard in the island, one of which he implies is the Indian cheetah. But although he specifies discrepancies in size, weight, and marking between the varieties which he has examined, his data are not sufficient to identify any of them with the true felis jubata.


F. melas, Peron and Leseur.


A species of one of the suffruticose Acanthaccæ (Strobilanthes), which grows, abundantly in the mountain ranges of Ceylon.


See Sir J.E. TENNENT'S Ceylon, vol. i. p. 31.


Paradoxurus typus, F. Cuv.


Viverra Indica, Geoffr., Hodgs.


EDRISI, Géogr. sec. vii. Jauberts's translation, t. ii. p. 72. In connexion with cats, a Singhalese gentleman has described to me a plant in Ceylon, called Cuppa-mayniya by the natives; by which he says cats are so enchanted, that they play with it as they would with, a captured mouse; throwing if into the air, watching it till it falls, and crouching to see if it will move. It would be worth inquiring into the truth of this; and the explanation of the attraction.


Canis Aureus, Linn.


Mr. D. de Silva Gooneratné.


In the Museum of the College of Surgeons, London (No. 4362 A), there is a cranium of a jackal which exhibits this strange osseous process on the super-occipital; and I have placed along with it a specimen of the horny sheath, which was presented to me by Mr. Lavalliere, the late district judge of Kandy.


Herpestes vitticollis. Mr. W. ELLIOTT, in his Catalogue of Mammalia found in the Southern Maharata Country, Madras, 1840, says, that "One specimen of this Herpestes was procured by accident in the Ghât forests in 1829, and is now deposited in the British Museum; it is very rare, inhabiting only the thickest woods, and its habits are very little known," p. 9. In Ceylon it is comparatively common.


The passage in Lucan is a versification of the same narrative related by Pliny, lib. viii. ch. 53; and Ælian, lib. iii. ch. 22.


Dr. LIVINGSTONE, Tour in S. Africa, p. 80. Is it a fact that, in America, pigs extirpate the rattlesnakes with impunity?


This is possibly the "musbilai" or mouse-cat of Behar, which preys upon birds and fish. Can it be the Urva of the Nepalese (Urva cancrivora, Hodgson), which Mr. Hodgson describes as dwelling in burrows, and being carnivorous and ranivorous?—Vide Journ. As. Soc. Beng. vol. vi. p. 56.


Of two kinds which frequent the mountains, one which is peculiar to Ceylon was discovered by Mr. Edgar L. Layard, who has done me the honour to call it the Sciurus Tennentii. Its dimensions are large, measuring upwards of two feet from head to tail. It is distinguished from the S. macrurus by the predominant black colour of the upper surface of the body, with the exception of a rusty spot at the base of the ears.


Pteromys oral., Tickel. P. petaurista, Pallas.


There are two species of the tree rat in Ceylon: M. rufescens, Gray; (M. flavescens, Elliot;) and Mus nemoralis, Blyth.


Coryphodon Blumenbachii, Merr.


Golunda Ellioti, Gray.


Mus bandicota, Beckst. The English term bandicoot is a corruption of the Telinga name pandikoku, literally pig-rat.


Hystrix leucurus, Sykes.


Manis pentadactyla, Linn.


I am assured that there is a hedge-hog in Ceylon; but as I have never seen it, I cannot tell whether it belongs to either of the two species known in India (Erinaceus mentalis and E. collaris)—nor can I vouch for its existence there at all. But the fact was told to me, in connexion with the statement, that its favourite dwelling is in the same burrow with the pengolin. The popular belief in this is attested by a Singhalese proverb, in relation to an intrusive personage; the import of which is that he is like "a hedge-hog in the den of a pengolin."


Bubalus buffelus, Gray.


KNOX, Historical Relation of Ceylon, &c., A.D. 1681. Book i. c. 6.


KELAART, Fauna Zeylan., p. 87.


A pair of these little bullocks carry up about twenty bushels of rice to the hills, and bring down from fifty to sixty bushels of coffee to Colombo.


WOLF says that, in the year 1763, he saw in Ceylon two white oxen, each of which measured upwards of eight feet high. They were sent as a present from the King of Atchin.—Life and Adventures, p. 172.


Attempts have been made to domesticate the camel in Ceylon; but, I am told, they died of ulcers in the feet, attributed to the too great moisture of the roads at certain seasons. This explanation seems insufficient if taken in connection with the fact of the camel living in perfect health in climates equally, if not more, exposed to rain. I apprehend that sufficient justice has not been done to the experiment.


CAREY and MARSHMAN'S Transl. vol. i. p. 430, 447.


PROFESSOR OWEN has noticed a similar fact regarding the rudiments of the second and fifth digits in the instance of the elk and bison, which have them largely expanded where they inhabit swampy ground; whilst they are nearly obliterated in the camel and dromedary, that traverse arid deserts.—OWEN on Limbs, p. 34; see also BELL on the Hand, ch. iii.


KNOX'S Relation, &c., book i. c. 6.


Moschus meminna.


When the English look possession of Kandy, in 1803, they found "five beautiful milk-white deer in the palace, which was noted as a very extraordinary thing."—Letter in Appendix to PERCIVAL'S Ceylon, p. 428. The writer does not say of what species they were.


Rusa Aristotelis. Dr. GRAY has lately shown that this is the great axis of Cuvier.—Oss. Foss. 502. t. 39; f. 10: The Singhalese, on following the elk, frequently effect their approaches by so imitating the call of the animal as to induce them to respond. An instance occurred during my residence in Ceylon, in which two natives, whose mimicry had mutually deceived them, crept so close together in the jungle that one shot the other, supposing the cry to proceed from the game.


Axis maculata, H. Smith.


Stylocerus muntjac, Horss.


Mr. BLYTH of Calcutta has distinguished, from the hog, common in India, a specimen sent to him from Ceylon, the skull of which approaches in form, that of a species from Borneo, the susbarbatus of S. Müller.


Ceylon, &c., by Sir J. EMERSON TENNENT, vol. i. pp. 7, 13, 85, 160, 183, n., 205, 270, &c.


MALTE BRUN, Geogr. Univ., l. xlix.


The Ancient World, by D.T. ANSTED, M.A., &c., pp. 322-324.


Cervus orizus, KELAART, Prod. F. Zeyl., p. 83.


Presbytes ursinus, Blyth, and P. Thersites, Elliot.


Sorex montanus, S. ferrugineus, and Feroculus macropus.


Herpestes fulvescens, KELAART, Prod. Faun. Zeylan.. App. p. 42.


Sciurus Tennentii, Layard.


Sciuropterus Layardi, Kelaart.


There is a rat found only in the Cinnamon Gardens at Colombo, Mus Ceylonus, Kelaart; and a mouse which Dr. Kelaart discovered at Trincomalie, M. fulvidiventris, Blyth, both peculiar to Ceylon. Dr. TEMPLETON has noticed a little shrew (Corsira purpurascens, Mag. Nat. Hist. 1855, p. 238) at Neuera-ellia, not as yet observed elsewhere.


Bos cavifrons, Hodgs.; B. frontalis, Lamb.


Felis jubata, Schreb.


See Chapter on the Birds of Ceylon.


See Chapter on the Insects of Ceylon.


Coup d'Oeil Général sur les Possessions Néerlandaises dans l'Inde Archipélagique.


TEMMINCK, Coup-d'oeil, &c., t. i. c. iv. p. 328.; t. ii. c. iii. p. 91.


Proceed. Zool. Soc. London, 1849. p. 144, note. The original description of TEMMINCK is as follows:

"Elephas Sumatranus, Nob. ressemble, par la forme générale du crâne à l'éléphant du continent de l'Asie; mais la partie libre des intermaxillaires est beaucoup plus courte et plus étroite; les cavités nasales sont beaucoup moins larges; l'espace entre les orbites des yeux est plus étroit; la partie postérieur du crâne au contraire est plus large que dans l'espèce du continent.

"Les machelières se rapprochent, par la forme de leur couronne, plutòt de l'espèce Asíatique que do celle qui est propre à l'Afrique; c'est-à-dire que leur couronne offre la forme de rubans ondoyés et non pas en losange; mais ces rubans sont de la largeur de ceux qu'on voit à la couronne des dents de l'éléphant d'Afrique; ils sont conséquemment moins nombreux que dans celuí du continent de l'Asie. Les dimensions de ces rubans, dans la direction d'avant en arrière, comparées à celle prises dans la direction transversale et latérale, sont en raison de 3 ou 4 à 1; tandis que dans l'éléphant du continent elles sont comme 4 ou 6 à 1. La longueur totale de six de ces rubans, dans l'espèce nouvelle de Sumatra, ainsi que dans celle d'Afrique, est d'environ 12 centimètres, tandis que cette longueur n'est que de 8 à 10 centimètres dans l'espèce du continent de l'Asie.

"Les autres formes ostéologiques sont à peu près les mêmes dans les trois espèces; mais il y a différence dans le nombre des os dont le squelette se compose, ainsi que le tableau comparatif ci-joint l'éprouve.

"L'elephas Africanus a 7 vertèbres du cou, 21 vert. dorsales, 3 lombaires, 4 sacrées, et 26 caudales; 21 paires de côtes, dont 6 vraies, et 15 fausses. L'elephas Indicus a 7 vertèbres du cou, 19 dorsales, 3 lombaires, 5 sacrées, et 34 caudales, 19 paires de côtes, dont 6 vraies, et 3 fausses. L'elephas Sumatranus a 7 vertèbres du cou, 20 dorsales, 3 lombaires, 4 sacrées, et 34 caudales; 20 paires du côtes, dont 6 vraies, et 14 fausses.

"Ces caractères ont été constatés sur trois squelettes de l'espèce nouvelle, un mâle et une femelle adultes et un jeune mâle. Nous n'avons pas encore été à même de nous procurer la dépouille de cette espèce."


A further inquiry suggests itself, how far the intermixture of the breed may have served to confound specific differences, in the case of elephants bred on the continent of India, from stock partially imported from Ceylon?


Halicore dugung, F. Cuv.


The skeleton is now in the Museum of the Natural History Society of Belfast.


MEGASTHENES, Indica, fragm. lix. 34,


ÆLIAN, Nat. Hist., lib. xvi. ch. xviii.


Hist, de la Compagnie de Jésus, quoted in the Asiat. Journ. vol. xiv. p. 461; and in FORBES' Orient. Memoirs, vol. i. p. 421.


FRAN. VALENTYN, Beschryving van Oud en Nieuw Oost-Indien, &c. 5 vol. fol. Dordrecht and Amsterdam, MDCCXXVII. vol. iii. p. 330.


VALENTYN, Beschryving, &c., vol. iii. p. 331.


Probably the Itinerarium Indicum of ALBRECHT HERPORT. Berne, 1669.


A "krank-bezoeker" or visitant of the sick.


VALENTYN, Beschryving, &c., p. 333.


Nat. Hist. l. ix. c. 5, where Pliny speaks of the Nereids.

[pg 75] [Last] [Top] [Next]