Page images

same in both instances. Each of these animals is in the habit of keeping its young by its side, whereas the cow and the goat put their tender offspring in hiding when they go to search for food, and only suckle them twice or thrice daily. The extreme liveliness, intelligence, and the early developed climbing powers of young kids seem to indicate that they were soon released from their nurseries in the clefts of the rocks, and were allowed to accompany their dams. Certainly when compared with a young calf a kid is a prodigy of intellect.

Almost every movement of a kid proves the mountain origin of its


Its powers of climbing are extraordinary, and must be witnessed to be believed. I have seen them clamber on slippery roofs and up the almost perpendicular face of a quarry to places which seemed impossible to reach without the aid of a ladder, or the clinging power of claws or fingers. I remember once seeing a pair of kids running races up and down the shafts of a disused farm roller which were tilted up at an angle of about 45°. On the extreme ends of the shafts, high in the air, the little creatures would stand, one on each, and turn about as on a pivot, with the tips of all four hooflets close enough together to rest on a penny-piece.

Such feats on the part of the goat are far more artistic exhibitions of skill in climbing than anything that can be done by a cat or a monkey; for he does everything by calculating his distance with absolute exactitude, and by an infinitely delicate power of adjusting his weight so as to maintain his balance. What gives such finish to the performance is his sublime confidence in himself, and the extraordinary precision with which

every movement is executed. His judgment is so perfect that he scarcely ever makes a mistake. Necessity has been his grim schoolmaster; for it is of course easy to see that, when leaping from ledge to ledge along the face of a precipice, the least error in calculating either his distance or the amount of muscular force to be exercised would instantly prove fatal.

This is a branch of the study of natural history which has a peculiar fascination for me, and which, the more I think of it, fills me with admiration and amazement. What a mathematician the goat would make if he could only tell us the process by means of which he performs his feats! A Senior Wrangler or a Smith's Prizeman would be nowhere beside him. Let me endeavour, very briefly, to point out the nature of certain problems which he is in the habit of solving with absolute accuracy at a moment's notice. Supposing a goat, following a new path, has to take a leap so as to alight on a pinnacle or narrow crag overhanging some abyss. First of all he must estimate the distance to be traversed, and having got it, whether by trigonometry or by some capricious method of his own, he has next to compute, to the fraction of an ounce, how much propulsive force is required to project his body (the exact weight of which has to be taken into account) precisely that distance and not a quarter of an inch farther. Moreover, he must take into calculation whether the spot he wishes to reach is above or below his starting-point; and plainly his brain, when it sends forth motor impulses to the numerous muscles involved, must beforehand reckon and apportion to each its share in the task. At the same moment he must also estimate the exact

proportionate amount of muscular force which will be required in each of his limbs to stop and balance his body on his new and precarious foothold.

Of course one need scarcely say that the whole process goes on without reaching the consciousness of the goat, or anything that could, even by courtesy, be called his mind. But, nevertheless, it is obvious that, in some way or other, the calculation is made, and is completed in a time and with an unerring accuracy which completely puts to shame the mathematical triumphs of the human intellect.

One term habitually-and alliteratively applied to goats appears, when we regard his feats as a mountaineer, to be peculiarly inappropriate. People speak of him as "giddy"; and as long as the word is applied exclusively to his morals (which, judged by our standard, I admit to be something worse than negative), I have not a word to say against it. But if any one ventures to impute physical giddiness to a goat, he lays himself open to a charge of false and malicious libel-false, because it must be obvious to everybody who has seen goats perched aloft in their native haunts, that they can never experience any such feeling; and malicious, because, the goat being above all things one whose distinct calling it is to climb in perilous places, the charge is one involving professional incapacity.

In spite of the goat's splendid qualities as a mountaineer, and the toughness and vigour which he evidently possesses, man has made little or no use of him as a beast of burden. Doubtless his small size largely accounts for this; and he has been, in almost every hilly country where he could have been

of use, cut out by the superior muscular capabilities of the donkey and the mule. Had we been unable to make use of larger and more robust animals, the goat might have come to our aid in this particular kind of service, just as did the llama among the ancient Peruvians. Moreover, I see no reason why, under the influence of domestication and proper selection, his size and strength should not have been doubled or trebled. We find, however, in investigating the growth of civilisation among primitive races, that as soon as their affairs are complex enough to require pack - animals, they find it profitable to disregard the claims of the goat and to take into their service some more sturdy creature, such as the yak, the donkey, or the mule. There are several reasons for thinking that the goat was one of the first animals domesticated by man. We find, from the numerous records of prehistoric races yielded by the mud on the shores of the Swiss lakes, that the bones of goats are associated with human remains belonging to a period long anterior to that of the advent of the domestic sheep in Central Europe.

Probably in nearly all cases where savages have habitually tamed wild animals the custom has arisen in the following way. The hunter, having killed the dam and captured the little ones, carried the latter home, very likely as playthings for his children. If the little orphans were pretty and playful, they would be cherished by the "squaws" and "papooses," and would become, as it were, members of the family circle. Now young kids have very engaging manners, and are to this day universal favourites with children; hence they would be very likely to

be kept and brought up in some such manner. Goats, again, require very little looking after; they can get a living almost anywhere, and will remain in the vicinity of their owners without much herding. Hence they would suit the indolent disposition of savages far better than would animals which require constant attention. Many of the African races seem to show little or no faculty for keeping domestic animals, but one finds that most of them have a few tame goats about their villages.

Another reason why it seems likely that goats have been domesticated for a very long time is the great number of varieties which now exist. Some of these have certain remarkable peculiarities which could only be produced by many generations of careful breeding. Thus the ears of one kind are so enormously developed as to be 19 inches in length and 4 inches in breadth. Others have an extra pair of horns; and it is stated by one French writer that in Nubia they have actually developed a breed which has no goat-like odour. It seems likely that the milking qualities of the goat would be appreciated by primitive people, who would be quite unable to turn the wool of the sheep to practical account; and since sheep, when removed from their mountain home, require very much more care than do goats, I should be inclined to give the latter the prior place in the history of domestication.

Attention has been drawn by naturalists to the love of thistles displayed by the donkey, and the hint it gives us as to his desert origin. The goat has some peculiarities of taste of an equally extraordinary character, which may be interpreted by studying the kind of vegetation which thrives

in his ancestral habitat. A goat will cheerfully munch up strong cavendish tobacco, cigar-ends, wormwood, red chillies, or almost any vegetable substance the pungency or nauseousness of which deters other animals. Now we find that among the Southern rocks nearly every herb and shrub has a markedly bitter or aromatic character, partly induced, doubtless, by the abundant sunshine, and partly as a defence from the depredations of animal life. That the goat is indifferent to some of the most deterrent flavours is probably due to the fact that for many generations he has been obliged to exist upon highly spiced pabulum of this kind.

One peculiarity of the goat I only venture to mention (not that he is reticent on the subject himself), because it illustrates by what diverse means nature attains like ends. Now among animals and plants, as well as in the commercial world, the business of life cannot be done without advertisement.

The wild ass uses his sonorous voice in proclaiming his presence to all whom it may concern within the radius of half a mile.

The goat has a comparatively feeble voice, and yet he also has occasion to make himself known to any friends or rivals who may be in his neighbourhood. He does it silently-but in this instance silence is wholly unconnected with modesty. He so arranges matters as to make it abundantly evident to the nostrils of every living thing within an area quite equal to that dominated by the voice of the ass, that he is at home.

Professor Lloyd Morgan, in one of his delightful books about animals, indulges in what Louis Stevenson describes as "a romantic evasion," when he speaks of

the "natural patchouli" of the billy-goat. Whether the use of this somewhat strained euphemism be due to respect for a national emblem of the Welsh, or whether the learned and gentle Professor desires to lessen the inevitable shock to our feelings which must ensue from his further assertion that that most worthy and respectable female, the nanny-goat, takes a gross pleasure in the effluvium, I cannot say. Professor Lloyd Morgan's statements are worthy of all respect; but, if I have any choice in the matter, I would much rather believe that feminine taste, however capricious, could never sink to such abyssmal depravity. Needless to say, this wild trait in the goat is not one which man has studiously cultivated. There may have been circumstances under which it took its place among the virtues where, in fact, it contributed to that "odour of sanctity" demanded by hircine moral ideals. But we will avoid the risk of mental overstrain by not striving to explain or imagine how such could ever have been the case.

The goat being a mountain animal is well protected against the cold, and we find that in some varieties there is a most abundant fleece of soft, silk-like wool. But the wool of the goat differs materially from that of the sheep, and the reason is not difficult to explain. Goats, from their habit of browsing among shrubs, need to be able to force their way through thickets without injury either to their coats or to their skin; whereas the sheep, living on the open hillside, is enveloped in a covering which is merely calculated for warmth, and is not fitted to stand much tear and wear. Hence we find that the wool of the goat does not "felt" and become tangled together in

a mass like that of the sheep. Microscopically the fibres are much smoother and more compact, and lack the saw-like edges of true wool. In fact the silky fleece of the Angora goat reminds one of the soft locks which grow on the head and beneath the coarser hair of the Skye terrier. Man has found that this special adaptation of the goat's natural covering to bear friction among rocks and thorns is a most opportune fact when he uses the wool for his own purposes. Some of the very toughest and most durable fabrics we have (such as that now largely used for umbrellas) are made of goat's hair. For long ages the Cashmere goat has been shorn to make the beautiful materials woven by natives of that country. The history of the introduction of mohair (which is the wool of the Angora goat) is one of the well-known romances of the history of commerce. It is now used in enormous quantities in the manufacture of soft wear-resisting fabrics.

A comparison of the horns of the sheep with those of the goat also reveals to us the difference of habit which has so affected the fleece in the two animals. The spiral horns of the wild sheep are exceedingly ill adapted for passing through thickets, because it is obvious that they would constantly become entangled and hinder the progress of the animal. Among some very ancient records of human affairs we find an example of this-for did not Abraham find "a ram caught in a thicket by his horns" when he was about to sacrifice Isaac? The very fact that a sheep usually is unable to disentangle himself if hung up in the bushes proves that the position is an unaccustomed one; although it does seem rather odd that fight

ing rams, whose horns have become hooked together, and who, one would think, would be well used to such an accident, seldom have the sense to make the half turn of their corkscrew-like weapons which would suffice to set both prisoners of war at liberty. Instances have been known of sheep having perished, head to head, because they had not sufficient wit-or possibly too much obstinacy to detach themselves from one another.

Now the horns of the goat are never curled so as to make it dangerous for him to pass through tangled briers or closely set underwood. He has merely to lift his nose and his horns lie back on each side of his spine or curve down his shoulders and serve as a protection for his body when he is forcing his way among the thorny scrub of the hillside.

As regards the future of the goat one can now speak rather more cheerfully than would have been possible before the hidden excellences of his fleece were discovered. Until comparatively lately the general tendency has been for the goat to act merely as a kind of temporary stop-gap among domestic animals, for we find that advancing civilisation has almost always replaced him by others whose serviceable qualities have proved better adapted to human needs. In fact, his fate has been that of the "jackof-all-trades" who is "master of none" all the world over. But there are some regions of the earth where his star is decidedly in the ascendant, and where it is

not likely to decline for a very long time. On the exposed and parched tablelands of South Africa, where at one time antelopes innumerable found sustenance, goats, probably because of their kinship to the antelope family, thrive far better than do any other domestic animals. The thorny shrubs and brown shrivelled herbage of the Karroo, which seems to the European traveller to be of the most unpromising character as fodder, afford him abundant nourishment.

Not long ago, it may be remembered, a well-known South African statesman went on a mysterious visit to the Sultan of Turkey. As this gentleman is popularly supposed to be always engaged in some deep and dreadful plot, sundry disquieting rumours got afloat as to the purport of his mission. At last some keen-witted journalist wormed out the awful secret. It was this: His Highness the Padishah happened to possess some particularly fine Angora goats, and the statesman in question was desirous of "doing a deal" with him, so as to improve the output of Cape mohair.

Although, when this Machiavellian piece of statecraft was laid bare, some people laughed and said that the newspaper men had found another mare's nest, the future will probably show that this patriarchal piece of traffic has done more for the permanent prosperity of South Africa than "all the gold of the Rand."


« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »