11 MAY 1901, Page 11


NvHAT Sir Harry Johnston thought to be probably a new zebra living in the Congo forests has proved to be a new mammal indeed, but neither the EquIts Johnstoni, which it was provisionally named, nor a horse of any kind or sort. It is an absolutely new type of existing animal, so far as can be judged from the skin and two skulls which a courteous Swedish officer, Mr. S. Erikssen, Commandant of the Congo State Fort of Mbeni, has sent to the Administrator of British Central Africa. Not long ago explorers in the far southern Cordilleras of Patagonia found the recent remains of the great ground sloth, which was believed to be extinct. But this is an even more suggestive fact, for it is now certain that an absolutely unknown creature, of large size, and probably the only representative of a prehistoric race of mammals, survives in some numbers in what is now a part of the British Empire. The existence of an unknown elephant or rhino- ceros or wild camel in some untrodden part of earth would be an interesting but not an unexpected discovery. When the gorilla was once more found by Du Chaillu, three centuries after Andrew Batten, the sailor of Leigh, had described those he had seen during his captivity among the West African Portuguese, curiosity and interest centred in the size and mental characteristics of the giant ape, but it was only one of a known class, and gave no fresh view as to the limits of animal form on the globe to-day, or hint as to the actual colour and shape of creatures now vanished from our planet. The new mammal does this. It is a living representative of a lost form. It may, for all we know, have habits unlike those of any existing creature. Its colour is strange, and its markings unlike those of the animals of to-day, inverting the usual distribution of tints. All large existing wild animals are lighter below than above. Nearly all, except the zebra and tiger, are of sober colours. This beast is painted with gaudy hues, and striped below and not above. Every other creature which bears true horns has either two or four. The giraffe alone has the rudiments of three. The new mammal has also the rudiments of three horn cores. Monday's Times gives a detailed account of the • extraordinary colouring of this prehistoric beast. It is as large as a wild horse, cloven-footed, and a ruminant. The head is large, the muzzle tapering, the cheeks white, the muzzle brown. This suggests the colouring of one of the larger African antelopes. But the whole forehead is scarlet-red, which narrows into a thin black line down to the nostrils. A scarlet-painted mammal.as large as a horse is novel enough; but this is carried out by a general mass of dark brown, painting the ears, neck, shoulders, belly, and back. This brown is so tinted with red as to appear almost crimson in some lights. Proceeding with this reconstruction, we have now a brown beast, with asses' ears, a scarlet forehead, and white cheeks. There remain the hind-quarters (the most conspicuous part in most quadrupeds) and the legs. The hind-quarters, and the hind-legs down to the hocks, are striped with purplish black, white, and pale orange. The proportions are something like those of a horse, and the outline that of a tapir. It is believed to live upon leaves, which accounts for its inhabiting the great forest and not the grass plains, which, if the new beast bad been a horse as was conjectured, it would certainly have done. No painter's fancy has ever pictured such a beast, though the imaginary accounts of zebras circulated by the Jesuit Tuchard in the middle of the seventeenth century credit them with gorgeous colouring. "As for the wild asses," he wrote, "they are of all colours. They have a long blue stripe that reaches from head to tail, the body being like that of a horse, full of broad streaks, all very lively, blue, yellow, green, black, and white." But even he did not give them a bright-red forehead.

The history of the discovery is on lines true to the general char- acter of successful searches in the past for the unknown, of which, at the same time, report and rumour have given some indica- tions. These successful quests always presuppose the exist- ence of the object, and the realisation of an idea. They are utterly unlike such treasures-trove as Cook and Banks stumbled upon when roving the seas seeking for continents or islands which might or might not exist. When Columbus discovered the West Indies and the South American coast he was following up a preconceived train of ideas. He found what he expected to find, and wrote home that he could hear the sparrows and nightingales singing like they did in Castile. When Cook and Banks saw the first kangaroos in Australia they realised at once that they had fallen by pure chance on an utterly new fauna, creatures never con- ceived to exist. Sir Harry Johnston's actual discovery falls midway between that of the Australian marsupials and Prejvalski's capture of the wild camel in the desert of Dsungaria. It is not a form never before thought of, because such creatures were known to have existed in a prehistoric era. But it has the positive novelty of never having been imagined to be possible in the present world, while its colouring was never guessed at from the evidence of the bones of its remote ancestors. The

first end of the clue which Sir Harry Johnston followed was picked up by Mr. Stanley, who heard rumours of this horse-like creature in the Congo forests. No one who tries to form from the maps some idea of the vastness of these regions of tropical woods can wonder that he did not see it. He mentioned the belief to Sir Harry Johnston, who was on friendly t3rms with those intelligent little hunters, the pigmies of West Central Africa. The chain of inquiries, from the late Member for Lambeth to the Special Commissioner for Uganda, from the Commissioner to the knowing little dwarfs, from the dwarfs to the Congo State officers, ran the trail home to the Belgian outposts on the upper waters of the great rivers. They con- firmed the story, and said that their men caught and ate the animals, and wore the gaily striped skin. Some striped por- tions of this were obtained, and were naturally set down as the skin of a kind of zebra, used for the savage soldiers' uniforms, as the skin of the leopard or bear is for the trappings of our Guards and troopers. The receipt of the entire skin and skulls has given to this surmise a complete, positive, and surprising contradiction. A glance at the recent maps of this little-known region shows where this unnamed sur- vivor of the ancient world still has its being, and accounts for our absolute ignorance of its existence. The frontier post of Fort Mbeni, and the Mboga corner of our Uganda Protectorate, where it is also said to exist, are, in the first place, absolutely in the heart of Africa. They are almost on the Equator, west of Victoria Nyanza, but so far removed from the civilising medium even of a great Central African lake that they have lain isolated in the uttermost darkness of the old Dark Continent as completely as if they were in the Antarctic circle. Looking at a first-class German map published in 1873, we see on this line of latitude, and for hundreds of miles on either side, one great blank nearly as large as the whole of European Russia, on which there are the names of only three conjectural tributaries of the Congo, and the broad black line marked Equator. Even the Great Lake's shore is only dotted in guesswork. Since then this unknown land has been little penetrated and never properly ex- plored. We have found there the strangest race of men ever yet discovered—the forest dwarfs, a large and numerous race, not a mere tribe; we have now found a survivor of the prehistoric beasts; and who shall say what will be the next addition to [our knowledge of the still living races of the world, man or beast, from this rankly overgrown, sun-heated, river-pervaded land ? Possibly a new and monstrous ape. The "missing link," which present explorers hope to find in Java, may be found feeding in the same forests as this descendant of the sivatherium. No one knows what may be the fauna haunting the forests of the Mountains of the Moon, which, veiled in their cover of impenetrable cloud by day, and only seen by the light of the moon on their snows, skirted by eternal forests, and beyond and above them by the fringe of gigantic heather, 60 ft. high, may, for all we know, be the haunt of some gigantic bird, a modern roc or dodo, or browsed by some monstrous goat or ovibos or African bison, whose natural enemy still survives to prey upon them in the form of a cave-bear or sabre-toothed lion or tiger.

But the public interest aroused by the discovery should at once ',Ike the practical form of issuing orders for the preser- vation of any of the creatures left in West Uganda. King Leopold is a signatory of the Convention to preserve African mammals, but he is not credited with any great interest in any form of fauna not immediately conducive to business. The protection of the creatures in the Congo State must depend on the sense and intelligence of the Belgian officers. It is not probable that the creature is a common one anywhere. Only two distantly connected animals n3w survive,—the giraffe and the prong-horn antelope. Anciently there were, so far as is known, only two others, called respectively and stupidly the sivatherium and the hclladotherium, because the remains were found in . the Sivalik Hills and in Greece. In the former, though the banes of countless other animals were found in the immense natural graveyard under the Himalaya, the remains of this creature were rare, and the second is still rarer. The existing form is probably not an animal which lives in troops like the antelope, but a semi-solitary leaf-browsing creature like the moose.