SOME NATURAL HISTORY IN WHICH IT IS REVEALED THAT A SING-SING WATERBUCK IS NOT A SINGING TOPI, AND THAT A TOPI IS NOT A SPECIES OF HEAD-DRESS
While reading an account of the trophies secured by Colonel Roosevelt on the Guas Ngishu Plateau, I was mystified by seeing the name of an animal I had never heard tell ofa singing topi. For a time I puzzled over this strange creature and finally evolved a satisfactory explanation of how the animal made its appearance in the despatches. Briefly, "there haint no sich animal," as the old farmer said when he saw his first dromedary in a circus; it was merely a mistake, due to the telegraphic abbreviations which foreign correspondents employ to save cable tolls.
What the correspondent meant to say was that the colonel had secured a sing-sing waterbuck and a topi. The word "waterbuck" was omitted because he assumed that everybody at home would know that a "sing-sing" was a species of waterbuck, wherein he was mistaken, for comparatively few people in America know what a sing-sing is, or, for that matter, what a topi is, or what a Uganda cob is. When his despatch had been transmitted through several operators on its way to the States the word "sing-sing" became "singing" and was supposed to be an adjective describing the topi. Hence the "singing topi."
The American paragraphers also had fun with the word "topi," for they thought a topi was a sun hat much worn in the hot countries. From this course of reasoning it was probably assumed that Colonel Roosevelt had shot some kind of a singing sun hat, which was certainly enough to cause comment.
There are two kinds of waterbuck that the East African hunter will find in the course of his travels, the common waterbuck which we saw in such numbers on the Tana River, and the Defassa, or "sing-sing" waterbuck, which is found in the higher altitudes up toward the Mau escarpment and Mount Elgon. Both of these varieties of waterbuck are beautiful animals, almost as large as a steer, and with great sweeping horns that often exceed twenty-five inches in length. In some instances the horns have been nearly three feet long, but the longest one that our party secured was only twenty-nine inches in length. As a trophy for a wall there are few heads in Africa more noble than that of the waterbuck.
In all our wanderings, during which we saw at least two thousand waterbuck, we found that the does outnumbered the males by ten to one and that usually in a herd of twenty there would be only one big male and one or two smaller ones. We also never saw them in water, but usually not a great distance from a marsh or stream. They were much shier than the hartebeest and zebra, and upon seeing our approach would be the first to run away. And by a curious chance the does seemed to know that it was the buck only that was in danger. They would often turn to watch us, while the buck himself would keep on running until he had put many hundreds of yards between himself and the threatened danger. Then, and then only, would he turn to watch, and it usually required careful stalking to get within gunshot of him again.
The doe is not pretty, being thickly and clumsily built, with a heavy, ungraceful neck, but the buck is like a painting by Landseer, noble, graceful, and beautifully marked with white and black on his dark gray coat.
We didn't kill many waterbuck, because there is no excuse for doing so except to secure the heads as trophies. The meat is so coarse and tough that even the porters, who seldom draw the line at eating anything their teeth can penetrate, do not care for waterbuck meat except under the stress of great hunger. They do like the skin, however, for it is of the waterbuck skin that their best sandals are made. Consequently, when a waterbuck is killed there is a fierce scramble among the porters to secure portions of the hide for this purpose.
The male waterbucks are savage fighters among themselves, and it was not uncommon to see big bulls with one horn gone or with both horns badly broken or marred as a result of the jealous struggle for dominance of a herd of does.
The topi is something like the hartebeest, but much more beautiful and much more rare. It is over four feet high, with skin of a dark reddish brown, with a silklike bluish gray gloss. On the shoulders and thighs are bluish black patches and the forehead and nose are blackish brown. The under parts are bright cinnamon. We ran across this beautiful antelope only on the Guas Ngishu Plateau, although it is found in one or two other districts in East Africa. In all our weeks of rambling on the high plains near Mount Elgon I think I saw several hundred head of topi, always shy and quick to take alarm.
A Uganda Cob
The Lordly Eland
The meat is the most delicious of any of the large antelopes, and the skin, when properly cared for, is as soft as kid and as brilliant as watered silk. The head is a fine trophy on account of its rich coloring rather than because of its horns, which are not particularly graceful in curve or proportion, but which are wonderfully ridged.
I am sure that if I were a beautiful topi with a skin like watered silk I should be deeply humiliated to be mistaken for a singing sun hat.
The topi's nearest relations are the sasseby, the tiang, and the korrigum. And now you know all about the topi. The game ordinance allows the sportsman to kill two topi, and the holder of a license will work hard to get his two, for they are splendid trophies.
The duiker is another little antelope that one meets frequently in the grassy places of East Africa. It is small, with dark complexion, and goes through the high grass in a way that strongly suggests the diving of a porpoise at sea. In fact, it gets its Dutch name for that reason, duiker bok, meaning "diving buck" in Dutch. There are a dozen or more different species of duikers, and they may be found scattered all over South and East Africa. They are difficult to shoot, for their diving habits make them a fleeting target; also their size, about twenty or thirty pounds in weight, makes them a small target.
Quite often the little duiker will hide in the grass until you have almost stepped on him, and then, if he considers discovery inevitable, he will spring away with his little huddled-up back rising and disappearing over the grass exactly as the porpoise does in the water. One day while we were beating some tall grass for lions, one of the porters stepped on a duiker, and its sharp horns, twisting suddenly, cut him on the ankle. The horns of the bucks are short and straight, from four to six inches long, but most often about four and a half inches.
It would take an expert mathematician to keep track of all the different kinds of duikers, for there's the crowned duiker, the yellow-backed duiker, the red duiker, Jentink's duiker, Abbott's duiker, the Ituri red duiker, the black-faced duiker, Alexander's duiker, the Ruddy duiker, Weyn's duiker, Johnston's duiker, Isaac's duiker, Harvey's duiker, Roberts' duiker, Leopold's duiker, the white-bellied duiker, the bay duiker, the chestnut duiker, the white-lipped duiker, Ogilby's duiker, Brooke's duiker, Peter's duiker, the red-flanked duiker, the banded duiker, Walker's duiker, the white-faced duiker, the black duiker, Maxwell's duiker, the black-rumped duiker, the Uganda duiker, the blue duiker, the Nyasa duiker, Heck's duiker, the Urori duiker, Erwin's duiker, and I suppose a lot more that the naturalists have not had time to catalogue.
Like a Popular Cemetery
One would assume that with all these duikers there would hardly be room left in Africa for any other animals. But there is. For instance, there's the oribi and the dik-dik, to say nothing of the steinbuck and the klipspringer. The last named is a rock-jumping antelope, the others little grass antelopes, and all of them are as pretty and cute as animals can be. They are all small, the dik-dik being scarcely larger than a rabbit, and they are divided into as many subspecies as the duiker. A list of the different kinds of oribi would take up several lines of valuable space without conveying any illuminating intelligence to the lay mind.
We found thousands of oribi on the Guas Ngishu Plateau. You couldn't go half a mile in any direction without stirring up large family parties of them, and a landscape looked lonely unless one could see a few oribi bounding over the ant-hills or rising and falling as they leaped through the grass. When we first went into the plateau the grass was long and the oribi were for the most part fleeting streaks of yellow over the tops of it, but later when we came out the grass had been burned and the young, tender grass had spread a green carpet over the plains. Then the oribi were visible everywhere, usually in groups of four or six. Also the mamma oribis had given birth to bouncing baby oribis, and the sight of the little ones was most pleasing to the eyes.
Mamma and the Little One
One day I was hot on the trail of a big waterbuck. The grass was deep at that part of the plateau and I was pushing rapidly through it. Suddenly one of my gunbearers, who was behind, called out and pointed to something in the grass. I hurried back, and there lay a little oribi only a few hours old and with big, wondering eyes that looked gravely up at me as I bent over it. It was plenty old enough to run and could easily have leaped away, but there it lay as tight as if nothing in the world could make it budge.
A Museum Specimen Must Be Preserved Entire
The Eland Is the Largest of the African Antelopes
The whole thing was as plain as could be. It was acting under instructions. I could almost hear the mother of the oribi tell the little one when it heard us coming to lay perfectly quiet and not to move the least bit until she came back. Then mamma hurried away to cover. The little oribi remembered his instructions and followed them out to the letter. Its mamma had told it not to move and it hadn't. We looked at it a little while and then said good-by and went our way. Some place near by an anxious mother oribi was watching us with her heart in her mouth, no doubt, and I'm sure that we had not gone many yards before she was back to see what had happened to the little one. It was quite an exciting adventure for the little oribi and quite incomprehensible to the mother that he had emerged from the peril so safely.
Another night I was going out to watch for lions. A bait had been placed near the tree where I was stationed and I had some hopes of seeing, if not killing, a lion. Night had already fallen, but there was still a trace of twilight in the air as I walked through the low scrub trees that lay between our camp and the tree, a mile and a half away. As I was walking along I heard a loud screaming to my left, and, looking across, I saw an oribi trying to beat off two jackals that had seized her young baby oribi. The jackals paid little attention to her and she was frantic in her efforts to save her little one.
It was too dark to see my sights plainly, but I shot at both of the jackals and sent them slinking away. I didn't go over to see if the little oribi was still alive, for I was certain that it had been killed. If it were dead I didn't want to see it and could not help either it or its mother; if it were alive its mother could get it safely away from the jackals. Since that moment I have hated jackals above all animals, not even excepting the odious hyena, and it is the chief regret of my hunting experience in East Africa that I did not kill those two cowardly vandals.
When the American reader picks up his paper and reads that Colonel Roosevelt has shot a Uganda cob, it is quite natural that he should not know what kind of a thing a cob is. If the colonel was out shooting "singing topis" or "singing sun hats," why, then, should he not also shoot corn cobs or cob pipes?
The cob, sometimes spelled kob, however, is only an antelope, although a graceful and handsome one. It is divided into several subspecies which live in different parts of the country. In one part will be found the large cob, almost the size of a waterbuck, which is called Mrs. Gray's cob, in honor of the wife of one of the former keepers in the London zoo; in another part is the species known as Vaughan's cob, and in still other parts are the dusky cob, the puku cob, the lechwi cob, the black lechwi, the Uganda cob and Buffon's cob.
It was Lady Constance Stewart-Richardson, the remarkable young English woman who is now dancing barefooted on the London music stage, who killed the record head of this last named species in Nigeria.
The Gregarious Cob
It is of the Uganda cob only that I am able to write about from my own observation and experience. We found them only in one place, on the banks of the Nzoia River near Mount Elgon and the Uganda border. They never were more than four or five hundred yards from the river and could not be driven away. If they were startled at one point they would circle around and quickly get back to the river at some other point. They seemed to become homesick unless they could see the river near by. We found them only in a short stretch of five or six miles, although they doubtless are found all the way down the Nzoia River to Victoria Nyanza.
The cob is a curiously reliable animal. He likes one certain place that he is accustomed to, and nothing can drive him away. If you see him there one afternoon, you are reasonably certain of coming back the next afternoon and seeing him there again. Usually they graze in some sheltered meadow along the river's edge, and for recreation, so far as I could see, amuse themselves by seeing how many can get on top of one ant-hill at one time. Some of those ant-hills were literally bristling with cobs, one male to each five females, and in herds of from thirty to fifty.
In architecture, the cob is nearly three feet high at the shoulder, has beautiful, sweeping horns of a lyrate shape, has a white patch around each eye, a white belly, and a coat of yellow with black on the forelegs. There is no handsomer antelope in Africa than the Uganda cob, and because it is found in such a restricted and remote district is accountable for the fact that one seldom sees a cob head in a collection of horns. Comparatively few sportsmen have killed them, although they are not hard to kill if one reaches a district where they are found. The extreme beauty of this antelope led us to secure a group of them for the Field Museum.
The reedbuck is another of the smaller antelopes that carries a beautiful head, and, like nearly all of the antelopes, comes in many varieties, or subspecies.
A Wounded Wart Hog
A Grass Fire
A Maribou Stork
Our own relations with the reedbuck were limited to the high altitudes near the Mau escarpment and the broad, rolling, grassy downs along the numerous streams of the Guas Ngishu Plateau. This subspecies is called the Uganda race of the bohor reedbucksometimes abbreviated to "bohor." If you say you've shot a "bohor" you will be understood to mean a bohor reedbuck.
You will find the reedbuck in the tall reeds and bulrushes of the swamps and low places, where he finds good cover and good feeding; and also you will find him along the low, undulating, grass-covered hills near his water supply. In the heat of the day they are up in the tall grass, where they remain until along in the afternoon. They lie close, and, if discovered, will dart off with neck outstretched in such a way as to make it difficult to tell which is male and which female.
I have also seen the females use every means for protecting their lords and masters, standing up before them as they lie secreted in the grass and seeking to divert the attention of the hunter from the bucks to themselves. This desire to protect the male is common to many of the antelope family, and numberless times I have seen a band of does attempt to screen the male and shield him from harm.
The reedbuck never travels in large numbers, seldom more than two or three, or at most, five or six, being bunched together.
They Watched While the Buck Ran Away
We had most of our reedbuck experiences while driving swamps for lions. On these occasions many reedbuck would be driven out of the cover of the reeds and rushes, and go crashing up the slopes leading away from the swamp. On one occasion a reedbuck lay so close that it did not stir until one of the beaters was almost upon it, when it sprang up, nearly knocking him over, and escaped behind the skirmish line of beaters. At other times, after the skirmish line apparently had traversed every foot of a swamp, reedbuck would spring up after the line had passed, thus illustrating how close they can lie and how effectually they can escape detection.
The reedbuck has short horns, usually between seven and ten inches in length, but one of our party secured one set of horns ten and a quarter inches longan exceptionally fine head. The reedbuck's distinguishing characteristic is a sharp whistle, which he sounds shrilly when alarmed.
Another beautiful antelope that we met in small numbers on the Tana River and on the Guas Ngihsu Plateau was the bushbuck, found in thick scrub along rivers and also in the swamps and wet places. This animal belongs to a select little coterie of highly prized and rare antelopes, all of which have the distinguishing feature of a spiral horn.
The bushbuck is the smallest, and is found over nearly all of East Africa except upon the open plains and deserts. The females are of a dark chestnut color, and the males dark, almost black, with white markings on the neck and forelegs. A bushbuck with fifteen-inch horns is considered a fine prize, although horns of nineteen inches are on record.
The other members of the same family of spiral-horned antelopes are the kudu, the lesser kudu, the situtunga, the nyala, the bongo, and the lordly eland, king of all antelopes in size. The kudu is largely protected in East Africa, and in my shooting experience I was not in a district where he was to be found. The same was true with respect to the lesser kudu. The nyala is a South African species and is not to be found in British East Africa. The situtunga is a swamp dweller and is found chiefly in Uganda and, to my knowledge, infrequently in the East African protectorate.
The bongo is to the white sportsman what the north pole has been to explorers for centuries. In all records of game shooting there has been, until recently, only one white man who has killed a bongo, although the Wanderobo dwellers of the deep forests have killed many.
The bongo lives in the densest part of dense forests, can drive his way through the worst tangle of vegetation, and has a hearing and eyesight so keen that usually he sees the hunter long before the latter sees him. A hunt after bongo means long hours or even days of hunting the forests, with hardships of travel so disheartening that comparatively few white sportsmen attempt to go in after the elusive antelope. Kermit Roosevelt, however, with the good fortune that has followed his hunting adventures, succeeded in killing a cow and calf bongo after only a few hours of hunting with a Wanderobo.
A few days after I heard of this piece of good luck I was traveling across Victoria Nyanza on one of the little steamers that ply the lake. My cabin mate was a stoical Englishman who told me quite calmly that he had just killed a large bull bongo a few days before. He had been visiting Lord Delamere, and after a few hours in the forest had succeeded in doing what only two white men had done before.
The Englishman who had this good luck was George Grey, a brother of Sir Edward Grey, one of the present cabinet ministers of England.
The eland is the largest of all antelopes, and we ran across a few on the Tana River and a few on the Guas Ngishu Plateau. Under the old game ordinance the sportsman was allowed to kill one bull eland; under the new ordinance he is allowed to kill none except in certain restricted districts and by special license. The eland is as big as a bull, with spiral horns and beautifully marked skin, and both the male and female carry horns. Those of the latter are usually larger and slenderer, but the skin of the female is not so handsomely marked as that of the male.
It is hard to get near an eland, but as the bull is nearly six feet high at the shoulders it is not especially difficult to hit him at three hundred yards or more. The one I shot was three hundred and sixty-five yards away and carried beautiful horns, twenty-four and one-quarter inches in length. The head of the great bull eland makes a wonderfully imposing trophy when placed in your baronial halls.
In the foregoing list of antelopes I have tried to tell a little about the types of that class of animal that I met in my African travelsin all, sixteen species of antelope. My chief excuse for doing it is to enable people at home to know the difference between a topi and a sun hat and between a sing-sing and a cob. The names of many of the African antelope family are strange and confusing, so that it is little wonder that they mystify people in America. There are a hundred or more kinds, and no one can hope to know them unless he makes a business of it.
I have not seen the grysbok, or the suni, or the dibitag, or the lechwi, or the aoul, or the gerenuk, or the blaauwbok, or the chevrotain, or lots of others, but who in the world could guess what they were or what they looked like, judging only from the names?
CHAPTER ONE | CHAPTER TWO | CHAPTER THREE | CHAPTER FOUR | CHAPTER FIVE | CHAPTER SIX | CHAPTER SEVEN | CHAPTER EIGHT | CHAPTER NINE| CHAPTER TEN | CHAPTER ELEVEN | CHAPTER TWELVE | CHAPTER THIRTEEN | CHAPTER FOURTEEN | CHAPTER FIFTEEN | CHAPTER SIXTEEN | CHAPTER SEVENTEEN | CHAPTER EIGHTEEN | CHAPTER NINETEEN | CHAPTER TWENTY | CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE | CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO
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