Some Exotic Pets


SOME ANIMAL FRIENDS IN AFRICA

By Bayard Taylor

Years ago I spent a winter in Africa. I had intended to go up the Nile only as far as Nubia, visiting the great temples and tombs of Thebes on the way; but when I had done all this, and passed beyond the cataracts at the southern boundary of Egypt, I found the journey so agreeable, so full of interest, and attended with so much less danger than I had supposed, that I determined to go on for a month or two longer, and penetrate as far as possible into the interior. Everything was favorable to my plan.

When I reached Khartoum, the Austrian consul invited me to his house; and there I spent three or four weeks, in that strange town, making acquaintance with the Egyptian officers, the chiefs of the desert tribes and the former kings of the different countries of Ethiopia. When I left my boat, on arriving, and walked through the narrow streets of Khartoum, between mud walls, very few of which were even whitewashed, I thought it a miserable place, and began to look out for some garden where I might pitch my tent, rather than live in one of those dirty-looking habitations. The wall around the consul's house was of mud like the others; but when I entered I found clean, handsome rooms, which furnished delightful shade and coolness during the heat of the day. The roof was of palm-logs, covered with mud, which the sun baked into a hard mass, so that the house was in reality as good as a brick dwelling. It was a great deal more comfortable than it appeared from the outside.

There were other features of the place, however, which it would be difficult to find anywhere except in Central Africa. After I had taken possession of my room, and eaten breakfast with my host, I went out to look at the garden. On each side of the steps leading down from the door sat two apes, who barked and snapped at me. The next thing I saw was a leopard tied to the trunk of an orange-tree. I did not dare to go within reach of his rope, although I afterwards became well acquainted with him. A little farther, there was a pen of gazelles and an antelope with immense horns; then two fierce, bristling hyenas; and at last, under a shed beside the stable, a full-grown lioness sleeping in the shade. I was greatly surprised when the consul went up to her, lifted up her head, opened her jaws so as to show the shining white tusks, and finally sat down upon her hack.

She accepted these familiarities so good-naturedly that I made bold to pat her head also. In a day or two we were great friends; she would spring about with delight whenever she saw me, and would purr like a cat whenever I sat upon her back. I spent an hour or two every day among the animals, and found them all easy to tame except the hyenas, which would gladly have bitten me if I had allowed them a chance. The leopard, one day, bit me slightly on the hand; but I punished him by pouring several buckets of water over him, and he was always very amiable after that. The beautiful little gazelles would cluster around me, thrusting up their noses into my hand, and saying "Wow! wow!" as plainly as I write it. But none of these animals attracted me as much as the big lioness. She was always good-humored, though occasionally so lazy that she would not even open her eyes when I sat down on her shoulder. She would sometimes catch my foot in her paws as a kitten catches a ball, and try to make a plaything of it,—yet always without thrusting out her claws. Once she opened Her mouth, and gently took one of my legs in her jaws for a moment; and the very next instant she put out her tongue and licked my hand. There seemed to be almost as much of the dog as of the cat in her nature. We all know, however, that there are differences of character among animals as there are among men; and my favorite probably belonged to a virtuous and respectable family of lions.

The day after my arrival I went with the consul to visit the pacha, who lived in a large mud palace on the bank of the Blue Nile. He received us very pleasantly, and invited us to take seats in the shady court-yard. Here there was a huge panther tied to one of the pillars, while a little lion, about eight months old, ran about perfectly loose. The pacha called the latter, which came springing and frisking towards him. "Now," said he, "we will have some fun." He then made the lion lie down behind one of the pillars, and called to one of the black boys to go across the court-yard on some errand. The lion lay quite still until the boy came opposite to the pillar, when he sprang out after him. The boy ran, terribly frightened; but the lion reached him in five or six leaps, sprang upon his back and threw him down, and then went back to the pillar as if quite satisfied with his exploit. Although the boy was not hurt in the least, it seemed to me like a cruel piece of fun.

The pacha, nevertheless, laughed very heartily, and told us that he had himself trained the lion to frighten the boys.

Presently the little lion went away, and when we came to look for him, we found him lying on one of the tables in the kitchen of the palace, apparently very much interested in watching the cook. The latter told us that the animal sometimes took small pieces of meat, but seemed to know that it was not permitted, for he would run away afterwards in great haste. What I saw of lions during my residence in Khartoum satisfied me that they are not very difficult to tame, only, as they belong to the cat family, no dependence can be placed on their continued good behavior….

Although I was glad to leave that wild town, with its burning climate, and retrace the long way back to Egypt, across the Desert and down the Nile, I felt very sorry at being obliged to take leave forever of all my pets. The little gazelles said, "Wow! wow!" in answer to my "Good-bye"; the hyenas howled and tried to bite, just as much as ever; but the dear old lioness I know would have been sorry if she could have understood that I was going. She frisked around me, licked my hand, and I took her great tawny head into my arms, and gave her a kiss. Since then I have never had a lion for a pet, and may never have one again. I must confess I am sorry for it; for I still retain my love for lions (four-footed ones, I mean), to this day.




6 comments:

  1. What's the name of the beautiful painting?

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    1. That's "Isaac Van Amburgh and His Animals," painted by Edwin Landseer. Van Amburgh was an animal tamer who performed in theaters in Victorian times. I guess he dressed in the Ancient Roman costume as part of his act.

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  2. Thanks, Gordon.
    I didn't know Landseer and even Bayard Taylor, whose experience in the house of the Austrian consul in Khartoum was undoubtedly fascinating.

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    1. Landseer made a number of paintings I like, many featuring animals. I've read only a little of Taylor; he seems to have been best known as a poet, but I find his poetry a bit bland.

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  3. "Van Amburgh was an animal tamer who performed in theaters in Victorian times".
    I didn't know him too. An interesting character.

    "I find his poetry a bit bland".
    Perhaps because Bayard remained scared to death by the consul's hyenas, "which" - he wrote "would gladly have bitten me if I had allowed them a chance".
    Fear of hyenas = bland poetry. :-)

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