The Human Side of Animals by Royal Dixon is part of HackerNoon’s Book Blog Post series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here: [LINK TO TABLE OF LINK]. Chapter XIII: Animals Scavengers and Criminals
"A warning from these pages take,
And know this truth sublime—
Each creature is a criminal
When he commits a crime."
No more remarkable creatures exist in the animal world than those that play the rôle of Nature's scavengers and criminals. They are as numerous and varied in their methods of working as they are interesting. The only things they have in common are their profession and their appetites. As individuals they are ugly, unattractive and apparently void of personality and charm. Nevertheless, they have an important part to play in the scheme of things.
One of the most noted of these scavengers is the jackal—the Bohemian of the desert—whose territory extends from the Gulf of Persia to the Strait of Gibraltar. He is equally at home in Arabia, Persia, Babylonia, Syria, Egypt, and the entire North Coast of Africa, and no country from Barbary to the Cape of Good Hope is ever out of reach of his ghostly and uncouth howls. He travels only by night, and very rapidly.
When suffering with extreme hunger, he will attack man, but this he will do only in very rare cases. As he lives entirely upon dead animals, he is more of a thief and glutton than a robber and murderer. He depends mostly upon flight and darkness for his protection, and rarely ventures a direct attack. With all his unlikable habits he is truly valuable as an agent of public salubrity, and an important officer of the desert "commission of highways."
These public scavengers, while especially fond of carcasses and putrid flesh, are not averse to a little fresh meat occasionally. The jackal is truly the follower or purveyor for the lion, and oftentimes they work together. Jackals will gather in large numbers near a lion's den and howl and scream until the lions come forth to disperse them. As soon as a lion appears they stop their noise, but when he is out of sight, they immediately begin again. This is done because game is near, and the wise jackals wish the lion to kill the game. When this is done, and the lions have eaten all except the bones, the jackals have their small feast of scraps.
These weird night prowlers have ways all their own, as any one who has spent a night in a tropical desert can attest. Imagine yourself on the Syrian plains between Bagdad and Damascus; a small white tent, and a starry sky: the silence is appalling, and you are just about to have your first sleep in the desert. Away, away from the distance comes a mournful, ghostly cry. Suddenly it ceases and like myriads of echoes it is repeated in hideous intensity—a babel of cries weird beyond description—so fierce and screeching as to be almost blood-curdling. It seems to come from all directions and distance out of measure! Vibrating over the sands and through the rocks, filling the immense void, crying out as it were for the sphinx, a veritable de profundis of the wastes. The vultures, who hold the fort during the day have given way to the night shift, the jackals. These come from all directions; from the caves in the earth, from among the rocks, from here, there, and from everywhere to take up their hygienic services where it has been left off by the day scavengers.
If you were near an oasis in the desert at the close of day, you would suddenly hear from the hot, barren sands a deep and peculiar sound. It swells and grows as an approaching wind, growing louder and louder as it comes nearer. Suddenly by the light of the camp fire, you see myriads of horrid green eyes, like ghost torches in a graveyard, and hear gnashing teeth, greedy in anticipation of the garbage you have thrown away.
These hyena hordes are frightfully ugly, but rarely dangerous to man. They visit every oasis settlement in immense numbers, howling, yelping, and fighting for any bit of offal they may find. Not a particle of garbage remains. At the first sign of dawn, they disappear like rats from a burning building, and seek their caves to digest their ignoble banquets.
No human street-cleaner could ever excel their work. No matter how large the garbage pile, no matter how many dead dogs, cats, and donkeys in a village street, no matter how unspeakable the offal, it all vanishes as completely as though it had been burned. Not a piece of bone, not a single chicken feather remains. The natives have no fear of the hyena; a small child armed with a stick can put to flight a dozen of them. They are the lowest of cowards, and will flee from their own shadows.
THE MONGOOSE IS A SCAVENGER OF THE WORST TYPE, FEEDING ON RATS AND MICE AND SNAKES, AND EVEN POULTRY.
American Museum of Natural History, New York
DIPLODOCUS. THE PREHISTORIC ANIMALS, ALSO, UNDOUBTEDLY HAD THEIR SCAVENGERS AND CRIMINALS.
In spite of their valuable services, mankind hates the hyenas. This is probably because of their absolute cowardice, for they will never attack a living creature unless it is weak from illness. Sometimes they steal a baby, never killing it outright, but carrying it away to their dens to starve it to death before mutilating its body. If the courage of this beast equalled his strength, he would be the despot of the desert. But he is like his fellow workman, the jackal, cowardly to the last degree.
Neither of them ever attempts to put an enemy to flight by legitimate means. They resort to fakery: one howls, and the other wrinkles his face in great anger. The jackal's greatest asset and protection, when he meets with an enemy, is bluff. He raises his ugly mane, lifts his ungainly shoulders and assumes the look of a Jason, while in reality he is as harmless as a mouse, and the smallest child could drive him away with a twig. His bravery is all pose—a make-believe game—which he plays over and over again with every one he meets.
A noted American scavenger is the peccary, a species of wild hog, whose home ranges from Texas to the Pampas of South America. He is a devourer of creatures more obnoxious than himself. He moves with great rapidity, is always on the alert, and stops at nothing from mountains to a flowing river. When he attacks an enemy he makes short work of him.
Bands of these hogs are led by a chief, who is the swiftest and fiercest of the herd. This aggressive leader is followed by successive lines of males, behind which come the strong females, while the rear is brought up by the old, the sick, and the young. In marching, they have the discipline of a trained army, and turn neither to the right nor to the left but go straight ahead. If the leader, for any cause, decides to change his route, the fact is quickly made known in some way to his followers, and the turn is made at a direct angle, with the accuracy of a surveyor, and the peccaries go forward again directly toward their new destination. This is another evidence of a special sense unknown to man.
But whenever a stop is made, or wherever they go, they do their work as scavengers. Fallen fruits, dead animals, insects, snakes, and worms are their prey. Thus they are valuable forest sweepers.
Strangely enough, in the animal world, as in the human, the lower professions are filled with those of less mentality than the higher, and as a result we find scavengers are nearest allied to criminals. The idea of one creature killing and eating another seems terrible. Yet they do, and most often do human beings commit the same crime. Cannibalism among wild animals is a common occurrence. The demand for food usually causes one animal to kill and devour another. But in captivity there are other causes for cannibalism: fear and excitement will oftentimes cause a mother to destroy her offspring.
It is a case of dog eat dog! Badgers often kill and devour their young. Wolves, in cases of extreme hunger, will eat their puppies; and Arctic travellers, when food for their dogs is scarce, have to guard constantly against the stronger eating the weaker. I once caught a mother field mouse with her two young and placed them in a cage; the next day the young had strangely disappeared, but I am not sure that the mother had eaten them. Hogs, cats, and rabbits will sometimes kill and eat their young even when food is plentiful. Crocodiles show an occasional cannibalistic tendency, while water-shrews are very pugnacious and oftentimes fight until one is killed. The victorious one eats his enemy! Thus it appears that Nature does not entirely disapprove of cannibalism, or she would not allow so many of her creatures to practise it.
Theft is a common vice among these various criminals. Monkeys and baboons form regular bands to rob and plunder. They have a chief who sees that a sentinel is posted at each dangerous post. The plunderers then line up in a long row, and the leader gets the booty and passes it along the line until it reaches the last of the band—the receiver. He deposits it in a safe place. If the sentry sounds an alarm, they all flee away, each with as much booty as he can grab. If the enemy presses too close, all booty is thrown away.
Passion, especially of love, causes much crime among animals as it does among men. Jealousy burns fiercely even in the breast of a beast. It is a common heritage of the fiercest lion and the gentle gazelle alike, and is capable of perpetrating the most dreadful crimes.
There are types of ugly dispositioned animals, who are always in a ferocious mood, just like certain ill-tempered human beings, who believe everything and everybody is trying to injure them. The common shrew, for example, is noisy, bold and fussy. He seems to delight in calling attention to himself by his grunty, squeaky voice. He advertises himself as a bad animal; and bad he is, for his terrible odour prevents other animals from coming near. Horses and mules are at times quite ferocious, and kick and bite, with no idea of obedience or kindness. They, of course, like our human criminals, are mentally unbalanced. Skilled horse trainers can detect at a glance a criminally inclined horse.
Rogue elephants are common in India. Even their trumpeting shows a ferocity and unbalance that terrifies the natives. Often these criminal elephants are sufferers of mental ailments. A respectable, law-abiding elephant herd will not allow a thug or rogue to live in their midst. They recognise him as dangerous for their society, and combine to force him entirely away from their homes.
Certain criminal animals have a strange antipathy for members of their own tribe, or for other kinds of animals. Such is common among monkeys, cats, horses, and dogs, and many terrible crimes are committed because of these antipathies. Every one has witnessed the terror of a dog that has been insulted, and elephants will carry an old grudge for fifty years and finally seek the most terrible revenge.
Often violent outbursts of temper on the part of a tame animal are caused by a change in the temperature or atmosphere. Even animals have days when they feel ugly and grouchy. Those that live in very hot climates are especially subject to fits of rage and anger. The approach of an electrical storm causes many of them to lose their self-control: herds of cattle often stampede just preceding a cyclone. They, like human savages, seem terrorised at the unknown. Not a few wild animals have actually run in the way of an automobile or passing train to attempt to stop it. Fear and rage are often caused by the appearance of a curious object. A bull, for example, when he sees a red rag, will madly rush at it, seemingly altogether oblivious of the man holding it. The matadors are safe only because the bull is insane from rage.
Many scientists of fame, like Lombroso, have demonstrated that strong drink is the cause of much crime among animals, the same as it is among men. In the pastures of Abyssinia the sheep and goats get on regular "drunks" by eating the beans of the coffee plants. They fight and carouse at such times like regular topers. Elephants are incorrigible when drunk, while dogs and horses have to be put in strait-jackets to prevent them from killing themselves.
Wicked animals always seek their own kind, and often band together for evil purposes. Figuier tells of three beavers that built for themselves a nice little home near a stream, and they had as a neighbour a respectable hermit beaver. The three called on their neighbour one day, and he received them cordially, and hastened to return their visit, when they pounced upon him and slew him, like human murderers, who had trapped their victim.
From all these we learn that Nature is filled with life-saving and life-furthering adaptations. Just as in the human drama we find deceit, disguise, mask, trickery, bunco and bluff, all forms of cheating and clever deceptions, so it is precisely the same in the animal world, though man is little informed on Nature's real ways.
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Dixon, Royal, 2006. The Human Side of Animals. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved May 2022 from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/19850/19850-h/19850-h.htm#Page_199
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