Sketches of Natural History of Ceylon eBook

J. Emerson Tennent
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 590 pages of information about Sketches of Natural History of Ceylon.

One gentleman in Ceylon, not less distinguished for his genuine kindness of heart, than for his marvellous success in shooting elephants, avowed to me that the eagerness with which he found himself impelled to pursue them had often excited surprise in his own mind; and although he had never read the theory of Lord Kames, or the speculations of Vicesimus Knox, he had come to the conclusion that the passion thus excited within him was a remnant of the hunter’s instinct, with which man was originally endowed, to enable him, by the chase, to support existence in a state of nature, and which, though rendered dormant by civilisation, had not been utterly eradicated.

This theory is at least more consistent and intelligible than the “love of nature and scenery,” sentimentally propounded by the author quoted above.]

But notwithstanding this prodigious destruction, a reward of a few shillings per head offered by the Government for taking elephants was claimed for 3500 destroyed in part of the northern province alone, in less than three years prior to 1848:  and between 1851 and 1856, a similar reward was paid for 2000 in the southern province, between Galle and Hambangtotte.

Although there is little opportunity for the display of marksmanship in an elephant battue, there is one feature in the sport, as conducted in Ceylon, which contrasts favourably with the slaughterhouse details chronicled with revolting minuteness in some recent accounts of elephant shooting in South Africa.  The practice in Ceylon is to aim invariably at the head, and the sportsman finds his safety to consist in boldly facing the animal, advancing to within fifteen paces, and lodging a bullet, either in the temple or in the hollow over the eye, or in a well-known spot immediately above the trunk, where the weaker structure of the skull affords an easy access to the brain.[1] The region of the ear is also a fatal spot, and often resorted to,—­the places I have mentioned in the front of the head being only accessible when the animal is “charging.”  Professor HARRISON, in his communication to the Royal Irish Academy on the Anatomy of the Elephant, has rendered an intelligible explanation of this in the following passage descriptive of the cranium:—­“it exhibits two remarkable facts:  first, the small space occupied by the brain; and, secondly, the beautiful and curious structure of the bones of the head.  The two tables of all these bones, except the occipital, are separated by rows of large cells, some from four to five inches in length, others only small, irregular, and honey-comb-like:—­these all communicate with each other, and, through the frontal sinuses, with the cavity of the nose, and also with the tympanum or drum of each ear; consequently, as in some birds, these cells are filled with air, and thus while the skull attains a great size in order to afford an extensive surface for the attachment of muscles, and a mechanical support for the tusks, it is at the same time very light and buoyant in proportion to its bulk; a property the more valuable as the animal is fond of water and bathes in deep rivers.”

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Sketches of Natural History of Ceylon from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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