Page:Lake Ngami.djvu/499

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491
FEARLESSNESS—SAGACITY—HABITS.

of the timidity they showed when these beasts made their appearance. But on my return journey I very frequently encountered the hippopotamus. More than once I narrowly escaped with life, and found that the men had good reason to fear a contest with this truly formidable animal.

In regions not much visited by the European hunter and his destructive companion, the firelock, the hippopotamus appears as a comparatively fearless animal, not unfrequently abiding the approach of man, whom he apparently surveys with a curious and searching look, as much as to say, "Why this intrusion upon my native haunts, which I have enjoyed in undisturbed tranquillity from time immemorial?" But man is cruel, and by his relentless persecutions a nature, once unsuspicious and confiding, is soon changed to that of the most timid and circumspective, causing the animal to take instant refuge in the water on hearing the least noise.

The sagacity of the hippopotamus is very considerable. Indeed, if we are to credit the testimony of Plinius, the cunning and dexterity of this beast is so great that, when pursued, he will walk backward in order to mislead his enemies. "The habits of the animal," says Dr. Andrew Smith, "are opposed to our becoming intimately acquainted with it; yet, from what has been noticed of its adroitness in guarding against assailants, in avoiding pits dug purposely to entrap it, in conducting its young both in and out of the water, and in migrating from localities which it may have discovered are not to be longer held without serious danger to others not exposed to such inconveniences—even though to reach those it may require to make long journeys—are all evidences that it is far from the stupid animal it has been frequently described."

It is asserted that if a hippopotamus be shot dead just after calving, the offspring will immediately make for the water, an element which it has never yet seen!