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    Chapter 26
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    The following passage occurs in an article on "The Naturalist in La
    Plata," by the late Professor Piomanes, which appeared in the
    _Nineteenth Century,_ May, 1893. After quoting the account of the puma's
    habits and character given in the book, the writer says:--"I have
    received corroboration touching all these points from a gentleman who,
    when walking alone and unarmed on the skirts of a forest, was greatly
    alarmed by a large puma coming out to meet him. Deeming it best not to
    stand, he advanced to meet the animal, which thereupon began to gambol
    around his feet and rub against his legs, after the manner of an
    affectionate cat. At first he thought these movements must have been
    preliminary to some peculiar mode of attack, and therefore he did not
    respond, but walked quietly on, until the puma suddenly desisted and
    re-entered the forest. This gentleman says that, until the publication
    of Mr. Hudson's book, he had always remained under the impression that
    that particular puma must have been insane."


    I have found among my papers the following mislaid note on the subject
    of sportive displays of mammalians, which should have been used on page
    281, where the subject is briefly treated:--Most mammalians are
    comparatively silent and live on the ground, and not having the power to
    escape easily, which birds have, and being more persecuted by man, they
    do not often disport themselves unrestrainedly in his presence; it is
    difficult to watch any wild animal without the watcher's presence being
    known or suspected. Nevertheless, their displays are not so rare as we
    might imagine. I have more than once detected species, with which I was,
    or imagined myself to be, well acquainted, disporting themselves in a
    manner that took me completely by surprise. While out tinamou shooting
    one day in autumn, near my own home in La Plata, I spied a troop of
    about a dozen weasels racing madly about over a vizcacha village--the
    mound and group of pit-like burrows inhabited by a community of
    vizcachas. These weasels were of the large common species, Galictis
    barbara, about the size of a cat; and were engaged in a pastime
    resembling a complicated dance, and so absorbed were they on that
    occasion that they took no notice of me when I walked up to within nine
    or ten yards of them, and stood still to watch the performance. They
    were all swiftly racing about and leaping over the pits, always doubling
    quickly back when the limit of the mound was reached, and although
    apparently carried away with excitement, and crossing each other's
    tracks at all angles, and this so rapidly and with so many changes of
    direction that I became confused when trying to keep any one animal in
    view, they never collided nor even came near enough to touch one
    another. The whole performance resembled, on a greatly magnified scale
    and without its beautiful smoothness and lightning swiftness, the
    fantastic dance of small black water-beetles, frequently seen on the
    surface of a pool or stream, during which the insects glide about in a
    limited area with such celerity as to appear like black curving lines
    traced by flying invisible pens; and as the lines everywhere cross and
    intersect, they form an intricate pattern on the surface, After watching
    the weasel dance for some minutes, I stepped up to the mound, whereupon
    the animals became alarmed and rushed pell-mell into the burrows, but
    only to reappear in a few seconds, thrusting up their long ebony-black
    necks and flat grey-capped heads, snarling chattering at me, glaring
    with fierce, beady eyes.


    In November and December, 1893, a short correspondence appeared in the
    _Field_ on the curious subject of "Dogs burying their dead." It arose
    through a letter from a Mr. Gould, of Albany, Western Australia,
    relating the following incident:--

    A settler shot a bitch from a neighbouring estate that had formed the
    habit of coming on to his land to visit and play with his dog. The dog,
    finding his companion dead, was observed to dig a large hole in the
    ground, into which he dragged the carcase; but he did not cover it with
    earth. The writer wished to know if any reader of the _Field_ had met
    with a similar case. Some notes, which I contributed in reply to this
    letter, bear on one of the subjects treated in the chapter on "strange
    instincts," namely, the instinct of social animals to protect and shield
    their fellows; and for this reason I have thought it best to reproduce
    them in this place.

    I remember on one occasion watching at intervals, for an entire day, a
    large and very savage dog keeping watch over the body of a dead bitch
    that had been shot. He made no attempt to bury the dead animal, but he
    never left it. He was observed more than once trying to drag the body
    away, doubtless with the intention of hiding it; not succeeding in these
    attempts, he settled down by its side again, although it was evident
    that he was suffering greatly from thirst and heat. It was at last only
    with the greatest trouble that the people of the house succeeded in
    getting the body away and burying it out of his sight.

    Another instance, more to the point, occurred at my own house on the
    pampas, and I was one of several persons who witnessed it. A small, red,
    long-haired bitch--a variety of the common native cur--gave birth to
    four or five pups. A peon was told to destroy them, and, waiting until
    the bitch was out of sight, he carried them off to the end of the
    orchard, some 400 or 500 yards from the house, and threw them into a
    pool of water which was only two to three feet deep. The bitch passed
    the rest of the day in rushing frantically about, searching for her
    young, and in the evening, a little after dark, actually succeeded in
    finding them, although they were lying at the bottom of the pool. She
    got them all out, and carried them, one by one, to another part of the
    grounds, where she passed the night with them, uttering at intervals the
    most piercing cries. In the morning she carried them to still another
    spot, where there was a soft mould, and then dug a hole large and deep
    enough to bury them all, covering them over with the loose earth. Her
    task done, she returned to the house to sleep all day, but when night
    came again the whole piteous performance was repeated: the pups were dug
    up, and she passed the long, piercingly cold night--for it was in the
    depth of winter--trying to keep them warm, and uttering, as before,
    distressing cries. Yet a third time the whole thing was repeated; but
    after the third night, when the dog came home to sleep, the dead pups
    were taken out of the ground and buried at a distance.

    Such an action as this strikes one with astonishment only because we
    have the custom of burying our dead, and are too ready at all times to
    regard the dog as human-like. But the explanation of the action in this
    case is to be found in the familiar fact that very many animals,
    including the dog, have the habit or instinct of burying or concealing
    the thing they wish to leave in safety. Thus, the dog buries the bone it
    does not want to eat, and when hungry digs it up again. When a dog
    buries or hides the dead body of the she dog it was attached to, or the
    she dog buries her dead young, it is with the same motive--namely, to
    conceal the animal that cannot be roused, and that it would not be safe
    to leave exposed,

    It is plain to all who observe their actions that the lower animals have
    no comprehension of death. In the case of two animals that are
    accustomed to play or to be much together, if one dies, or is killed,
    and its body left, the other will come to sniff at, touch, and at last
    try to rouse it; but finding all attempts vain, it will at length go
    away to seek companionship elsewhere. In cases where the attachment is
    much stronger, the dead body may he watched over for an indefinite
    period. A brother of mine once related to me a very pathetic incident
    which occurred at an estancia on the pampas where he was staying. A
    large portion of the land was a low, level, marshy plain, partly
    overgrown with reeds and rushes; and one day, in this wilderness, a
    little boy of eight or nine, from the estancia, lost himself. A small
    dog, his invariable attendant, had gone out with him, but did not
    return. Seven days later the poor boy was found, at a great distance
    from the house, lying on the grass, where he had died of exhaustion. The
    dog was lying coiled up at his side, and appeared to be sleeping; but,
    when spoken to, he did not stir, and was presently found to be dead too.
    The dog could have gone back at any moment to the estancia, but his
    instinct of attachment overcame all others; he kept guard over his
    little master, who slept so soundly and so long, until he, too, slept in
    the same way.

    A still more remarkable case of this kind was given in one of my books,
    of a gaucho, accompanied by his dog, who was chased and overtaken by a
    troop of soldiers during one of the civil wars in Uruguay. Suspecting
    him of being a spy, or, at all events, an enemy, his captors cut his
    throat, then rode away, calling to the dog to follow them; but the
    animal refused to leave his dead master's side. Returning to the spot a
    few days later, they saw the body of the man they had killed surrounded
    by a large number of vultures, which the dog, in a frenzy of excitement,
    was occupied in keeping at a respectable distance. It was observed that
    the dog, after making one of his sallies, driving the birds away with
    furious barkings, would set out at a run to a small stream not far from
    the spot; but when half way to it he would look back, and, seeing the
    vultures advancing once more to the corpse, would rush back to protect
    it. The soldiers watched him for some time with great interest, and once
    more they tried in vain to get him to follow them. Two days afterwards
    they revisited the spot, to find the dog lying dead by the side of his
    dead master. I had this story from the lips of one of the witnesses.

    In all such cases, whether the dog watches over, conceals, or buries a
    dead body, he is doubtless moved by the same instinct which leads him to
    safeguard the animal he is attached to--another dog or his human master.
    But, as the dead animal is past help, it is, of course, a blunder of the
    instinct; and the blunder must be of very much less frequent occurrence
    among wild than among domestic animals. In a state of nature, when a
    gregarious animal dies, he dies, as a rule, alone; his body is not seen
    by his former companions, and he is not missed. When he dies by
    violence--which is the common fate--the body is carried off or devoured
    by the killer. This being the usual order, there is no instinct, except
    in a very few species, relating to the disposal of the dead among
    mammals and other vertebrates, such as is found in ants and other social
    insects. There are a few mammalians that live together in small
    communities, in a habitation made to last for many generations, in which
    such an instinct would appear necessary, and it accordingly exists, but
    is very imperfect. This is the case with the vizcacha, the large rodent
    of the pampas, which lives with its fellows, to the number of twenty or
    thirty, in a cluster of huge burrows. When a vizcacha dies in a burrow,
    the body is dragged out and thrown on to the mound among the mass of
    rubbish collected on it--but not until he has been dead a long time, and
    there is nothing left of him but the dry bones held together by the
    skin. In that condition the other members of the community probably
    cease to look on him as one of their companions who has fallen into a
    long sleep; he is no more than so much rubbish, which must be cleared
    out of an old disused burrow. Probably the beaver possesses some rude
    instinct similar to that of the vizcacha.

    _Apropos_ of animals burying their treasures (or connections) for
    safety, it is worth mentioning that the skunk of the pampas occasionally
    buries her young in the kennel, when hunger compels her to go out
    foraging. I had often heard of this habit of the female skunk from the
    gauchos, and one day had the rare good fortune to witness an animal
    engaged in obliterating her own kennel. The senses of the skunk are so
    defective that one is able at times to approach very near to without
    alarming them. In this instance I sat on my horse at a distance of
    twenty yards, and watched the animal at work, drawing in the loose earth
    with her fore feet until the entrance to the kennel was filled up to
    within three inches of the surface; then, dropping into the shallow
    cavity, she pressed the loose mould down with her nose. Her task
    finished, she trotted away, and the hollow in the soil, when I examined
    it closely, looked only like the mouth of an ancient choked-up burrow.
    The young inhabit a circular chamber, lined with fine dry grass, at the
    end of a narrow passage from 3 ft. to 5 ft. long, and no doubt have air
    enough to serve them until their parent returns; but I believe the skunk
    only buries her young when they are very small.
    Chapter 26
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