Transplanting African Animals

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Transplanting African Animals.
by Frederick Russell Burnham

Published in: The Independent, (February 10, 1910).

[Major Burnham writes with exceptional authority on the possible adaptation of selections of the game of Africa to the seralarid regions of our Southwestern States and Territories. From earliest boyhood the life of this remarkable SOD of a Protestant missionary on the Minnesota frontier has been a drama of far- ranging experience and thrilling adventure, graphically sketched by Richard Harding Davis in his "Real Soldiers of Fortune." For fifteen years he roved the West from Hudson's Bay to Mexico, until he was tempted to try his fortune as a prospector on the South African gold fields in 1893. Soon after landing at Cape Town he was induced to head the scouts in the Matabele wars and the conquest of Rhodesia, and when he sought the new field of the Klondike he was recalled by a cable from Lord Roberts to beeome Chief of Scouts for the main British army in the Boer war. His daring service made him heroic in the eye of the army and people and he was signally honored by the presentation of the Distinguished Service Order by King Edward personally. After the war he headed an expedition to explore East Africa as a director of the British East African Syndicate and spent two arduous and perilous years in determining the resources of the new province and the openings for settlement. He in now closely associated with John Hays Hammond as executive head in the reclamation of a great tract in Sonora, Mexico.— Editor.]

There is in Africa a wonderfully varied range of interesting animals. Most of the desirable ones could easily be introduced into our own Southwest. They would multiply where our own domestic animals can not live. Vast tracts of our lonely deserts could be teeming with life interesting, beautiful, harmless, very useful for food and leather, displacing not a head of our cattle or other domestic stock, offering a grand hunting ground, a true pleasure land to all lovers of animal life.

Throughout all the foothill region and far south into Mexico, the bushbuck would thrive. It is mostly a browsing animal, about the size of our deer; one variety has peculiar white markings, like a harness, and it is called the harness buck; the horns are slightly spiral, measuring about 15 inches in length. Great skill is required to stalk it, and a quick, sure shot when found, or it will escape every time. Its flesh is of very fine flavor, and its hide makes one of the strongest leathers known. It is commonly used by the Boers to make forelashes on their immensely long ox whips and stage whips. Another possible importation is the oribe, a marvelously swift and graceful gazelle, weighing about 30 pounds, which ranges over the drier regions of Africa, especially in the north. The gemsbok, called the oryx in the north, is a much larger animal, wtiich is equally adaptable to conditions in this country. Its marked characteristic is its perfect, straight, tapering black horns, that reach a length of 36 to 40 inches. The buck weighs from 200 to 250 pounds, and will fight savagely when hard pressed. It has been Known to kill a lion with its dagger-like horns. The gemsbok is a true game animal, and can live out on the desert a hundred miles from water. Its evesight is wonderfully strong, so that it is exceedingly difficult to stalk. Its meat is wefl flavored and its hide equal to the best calf. The gemsbok should have for a pal on our plains the speedy sesipe. I think most of the hunters of South Africa are well agreed that the sesipe is the fleetest antelope known. Some swift horses are bred in South Africa, but it is a rare one that can outfoot this game. The Posselt brothers had the only horses in Rhodesia that I ever personally saw run down a sesipe.

The springbok, that corresponds to our pronghorn, is readily bred. It is a beautifully marked antelope, and exceedingly agile. Often a whole herd in running will give a series of marvelous bounds several feet high, and, it may be, 30 feet span, apparently for sheer joy in the sport. A wa^on road acrossthe veldt will almostalways tempt them to show how far they can leap. The Boers on the farms now preserve them, and have a series of great hunts every year, coming with their families and wagons and making a picnic of the chase, each" farmer taking only what he needs, or what the herds can well spare, to avoid overstocking. In the hilly country the roi buck and duiker, as well as the quick darting stembok, add variety" to the small game, all successfully preserved now, and adding to both the food supply and the charm of life in the African veldt.

East Africa, broadly viewed, seems designed by nature as a vast game preserve, and should be held largely with this aim in view, for the greater part of the country is of no value for settlement. The English Government, on the strong advice of its local officials, has set aside a domain that shelters everything— the elephant with its valuable ivory, even the lion. Yet these officials, almost to a man, are skilled hunters and fond of sport. But they restrict themselves, as well as others, and allow in no part of the country indiscriminate slaughter. Possibly from this preserve we may, at some future time, be allowed to bring enough specimens to start a herd in our own country. We, too, have an immense area, fully 1,500 miles long and 1,000 wide, that would hold countless thousands of rare game to add greatly to our national wealth, and furnish a reserve food supply.

Take, for example, the giraffe, which is a browsing animal, living almost exclusively on a thorny scrub, like the mesquite. Its flesh is very palatable and its hide extremely tough and serviceable, making the favorite lash $i the Boer, and a shield for the Somali warrior that no spear can pierce. This picturesque and harmless animal would thrive from the borders of Nevada to Texas, and far into Mexico. No enemy save man would touch it. A full-grown animal weighs over a ton, and must stoop his towering head to feed from your hand at the second-story window of a good-sized house. In contrast, there is that little fairy antelope, called the dick-dick, with sharp hoofe the size of a dime, and jet black horns about an inch and a half long. It weighs about 15 pounds and stands a foot high. It is easily tamed, and its flesh is of delicate flavor. In South Africa it goes by the name of noseouck, as ita upper lip is prehensile, though it is a true antelope. It would thrive certainly on the cactus patches in our Southwest.

There is further the lordly eland, weighing from 800 to as high as 1,600 pounds. It can go great distances from water, and would help stock many an arid range if given the chance, On our cliffs and mountains the clipepringer would be perfectly at home, and think he was again in his own Rhodesia or Transvaal. Its peculiar hollowed hoofs enable it to cling to a pinnacle of rock that would baffle a wild cat or even a goat. It weighs about 40 pounds. Its hair is hollow and very springy, making excellent paddings for saddles, and its flesh is delicate meat. Like the gemsbok, it would be an excellent curative for weaklings if they hunted him in his natural surroundings. Mr. Warthog, big and ugly, would be quite happy and most useful in the everglades or swamps of the South. Many beautiful and harmless waders, flamingoes, plover, frankholins, cranes, herons, and certainly the royal bustard, could oe introduced through all our southern lands very profitably. The ostrich would be quite at home in Arizona and New Mexico. It is already successfully introduced in California on fenced ranches.

In short, Africa is a wonderland of animal life to draw from. We can exclude its venomous reptiles and insects, and take the useful animals that have worked out from a hard environment a way to survive. By transportation to our land they would be delivered from their chief natural enemies. To this New World were brought the ass, the cow, the horse, sheep, goat, and hog. All of these ran wild at once and thrived, except the sheep, who is and always was a mollycoddle. Camels, valuable for both flesh, milk and hair, grew wild in Arizona from a government herd until an enterprising Yankee rounded up every female, old and young, shipped them East and sold them to a circus. Otherwise we should have had good-sized herds long ago, and made use of them, as the Australians have, if we were equally enterprising. The Cape buffalo would thrive also, but might be considered too fierce for the rising generation to play with. Anyone hunting him will not complain of a dull time. Its flesh is very good eating, and its hide much better than that of an ox. When a Boer wants a good pair of shoes he tries, if possible, to have the soles of buffalo hide.

The zebra would dot pur plains with color if we gave it the chance, though, from experience, I do not think it a valuable animal either to work or ride, and its hide does not make a leather of any value. Its flesh is good to eat, and it is one of the most beautiful of all the game animals.

These are only a few of the animals and birds that might be introduced into our own vast solitudes, where, for hundreds of miles, can only be seen a lonely raven or solitary coyote. But it can not be, although there should be nothing to prevent it. In Africa the game lives ever in dread of attack. It is haunted by lions, leopards, hyenas, chetahs, wild dogs more savage than lions, crocodiles in every stream, eagles and vultures that prey on the young, pythons beside the trails, poisonous snakes, and other foes too numerous to mention. Yet millions survive and endure further the scourge of droughts and the hardships of the desert. Why, then, should these hardy game animals not thrive and multiply in a country exempt from these perils, with a climate corresponding exactly in range to that of their native land? We ourselves are the only reason why none of this precious game can ever live in our wild plains. So intent are we on destruction that we have become the wonder of the world. We have dynamited our fish, killed all our buffalo, carried off even hia bones in train loads, then came back with herds of cattle, tramped out and ate out the finest natural grass ever known. When it was eaten level with the ground, for fear it might, with its great recuperative powers, renew itself, we have put that curse of God, the sheep, to tear it up by the roots and gnaw to death every little shrub left by the cattle. I have seen forest fires 40 miles wide burning in the Sierras to make early grass for herds of sheep. If it were known that a herd of eland were on the Rio Grande, a thousand guns would be after them and their hides sold to the nearest est tannery; even a rare bird would surely be slaughtered. Again and again I have known of individuals trying to introduce useful birds and animals; their fate is always the same. Only a national law and a changed public opinion can make it possible to ever either save what animal life we have or introduce new and valuable additions.

The man with a natural and wholesome love for sport and all forms of sturdy life is confronted by the ruthless pot hunters, who gather the eggs and feathers of every bird that flies, and trap, poison and kill every animal within reach for the immediate gain. To this class must be added a small number of simply destructive men who kill and kill and let the game rot where it falls; men who use a stick of dynamite to get a mess of trout, killing one hundred and catching, maybe, three or four. All these men naturally hate game laws. Still another class looks upon all sport and pastime, especially hunting and fishing, as so much time wasted. I remember an old farmer in Iowa saying he would be glad when the last duck was shot and the last fish caught, as then, maybe, he could get his boys to attend to the plowing. Well, he has his wish. His house now stands where it did in my boyhood. Not a duck nor a goose nor a plover ever passes by. Scarcely a bird, save the ominous raven, ever breaks the silence. The prairie chicken and quail are all killed; they sometimes ate the corn. The once clear stream is now the wallow of his favorite breed of bogs. Everything is as he planned it. Hogs and corn, barbed wire, more hogs, more corn. Ilis wife is dead, his boys long years ago left the farm. His one happiness is when he goes into the hog pasture and calls "Suke, Suke, Sook, Sook, in quavering voice, more dismal to hear than the caw of the- crews. Naturally he is against any game laws, and will poison the firat covey of quail that cross hi? cornfield. Another element that opposes every form of hunting and fishing is the super- sensitive people who are teaching the rising generation that all life is sacred and that animals should not be sacrificed to the demands of man. These people would find in India this conceitof protection to life carried out to the full. Even the vermin that infest the natives may not be killed. When they become intolerable they are picked off and laid in the hot dust, their belief being that if God intended the pests to live He would cool the dust; otherwise they perish at His will, not theirs.

In the animal world nature seems to work out the essential end by means apparently harsh. If it were not for the natural enemies of the great game herds, they would increase so fast that there would be no food supply, and starvation would be their end. The greater part of the grass-eating animals are not long-lived. With the heat of summer the old must die of thirst and weakness. But as it is now arranged, the lion and leopard and many other enemies kill in one instant, or, at most, in a short, sharp fight, in which the animal can feel no pain. Its not yet emaciated body ijives food and life to others. Furthermore, it is among the sick and weak that disease is spread, and infection there may reach a point that endangers the whole healthy herd. Always when some unnatural increase occurs, some disease sweeps them off. So even the lions and tigers, vultures and eagles, serve a merciful and proper purpose. In the countries where they are found, any animal that is born deficient in its faculties, or becomes ill or aged or wounded, is at once usefully destroyed as a means of preserving the high average of the herd.