13 JUNE 1908, Page 11


JAL.STRANGER to the Zoological Gardens perhaps owe- sionally passes the main gateway in any month from February to June and wonders at the singing of a bird which he hears near the gate. It sounds like the most superb black- bird that ever opened a bill: a prince enchanted into a bird; a bird of the gold twilights of Haus Andersen. If be is a wise man, he goes into the Gardens to listen to the bird nearer. and he discovers one of those tragedies which belong to all collections of wild animals ; which kindness would alter if it could, but cannot. It is not a blackbird singing; they are two Indian orange-headed thrushes, each telling the other all the morning that he sings more gloriously than any other bird of all the things that birds know. Or that he would if he knew them all, for neither of them has a mate, and most of the song is all imagination, about what a mate would be like. One of them is fierce, and drives other birds away; the other this spring fell in love with a wood-thrush, and did everything to try to get her to nest with him. He followed her about and brought her all the best worms; he even built a. nest on the ground, entirely by himself, to show her; but it was a hopeless business from the first. She would have nothing to do with him ; she was afraid of him, the keeper thinks. No one has yet been able to find him a hen of his own kind, so he sits alone on the ground in a corner of the new Western aviary all the morning, and his singing invites everybody to come and look at the aviary and all the other improvements.

Five years ago, under a new secretary, Dr. Chalmers Mitchell, the Zoological Gardens took a fresh lease of life. New cages for the mammals and new aviaries for the birds have changed the enclosure in Regent's Park from what was once a rather painful exhibition of captives into a forest- garden in which the creatures can be seen under something like natural conditions. None, perhaps, enjoy their lives more than the seals and sea-lions in the large cage with its big pond, which has taken the place of the small round bath that was never big enough or comfortable enough for one sea-lion, much less several. Now the sea-lions have a large structure of limestone, with platforms for lying on and diving off, and brick dens under the stone into which they can go and sleep when they please. A sea-lion basking on his rocky platform is a spectacle of infinite contentment. He lies on his side, curls his hind-feet gracefully round, folds his flippers neatly, turns his smooth and portly person into a position where it will receive a convenient amount of sun, and then twists his neck upwards and sideways as if he were going to rest it on an elbow, but found he had no elbow, so left his head where it was. Nothing could look more pleasantly lazy ; but at dinner-time he makes up for it by a display of vast agility. The keeper throws fish out of a basket as sea-lions like it thrown; the fish describe liberal curves and arcs in the air, and the seals and sea-lions race about in the water trying to seize the flying whiting before it touches the surface. One extremely able sea-lion props himself on his flippers high on the rocks and catches and Swallows three, four, five whiting as fast as they can be thrown; the sixth flies wide of his reach, and he merely gives a careless shove with his hind-feet, executes a perfect header, catches the fish in mid-air, and swims to shore again.

The new otter-pond, where the otters are fed, so the guide- book informs yon, every day at three o'clock, would doubtless give the otters as good a chance of showing off before visitors as the sea-lions' pond ; but, unfortunately, there are just now no otters in it. Otters are fierce creatures, and fight furiously among themselves unless they have been brought up by hand, and though the bolts in the sandstone rocks look inviting, they are without tenants. Another enclosure with a small pond in it has been more successful. Three years ago a new enclosure was added to the Gardens near the Diving-Birds' House. It is a green mound covered with grass and cow- parsley, with a little rocky pond and three lime-trees in it, and is engagingly named the Squirrels' Trees. In and round the trees live a number of North American grey squirrels, who seem likely to become a remarkable addition to the life of London parks. The original inhabitants of the trees were given to the Society by the Duke of Bedford; but they have bred and multiplied, and now run wild, not only in the Zoological Gardens, but even in Regent's Park. Those that are still in the enclosure are extremely tame and entertaining little animals. They rush about in the grass and jump from stone to stone round the pond; they are very fond of nuts, of course, and come to the wire-fence to get them, take them out of your fingers very gently, and then sit up and politely eat them, or dance up to a perch in a bush or tree. Under the trees among the cow-parsley there are nesting-boxes for them, in which they bring up their families ; but some of them prefer to make dreys for themselves in the trees, and carry up into the branches large quantities of cow-parsley, which looks oddly out of place, rather like the straw round the ears of the March Hare. Anybody who wishes to be easily amused should station himself by the Squirrels' Trees with a bag of nuts, and give them to the children who come by and stop to look at the squirrels. The enclosure has not been long enough there to have become a familiar institution, and the children never have any nuts. The squirrels enter into the spirit of the thing splendidly, and practically never stop eating. • Of the animals which give exhibitions, one of the most superb artists is an inhabitant of the new ape-house. Two gibbons live in a large house lined with white tiles behind a glass screen to keep them from catching influenza from the visitors, and the black gibbon, when he is in, the mind for it, gives a display of gymnastics which simply leaves you breath- less. He has long, black, thin arms and legs, and when he starts swinging round the cage the rhythm and grace and lissomness of the black, festooning limbs are beyond imagina- tion wonderful. He has a rope, a tree, and two long bars; he starts with a leap from the tree across the cage to a bar, swings hand-over-hand along the bar, out again to the rope, back from the rope to the other bar, along that and up the tree, down in the air just not to the ground, up to the bar again; the eye can hardly follow the leaping, looping figure. It is the most joyous motion, the acme of lithe, careless swinging. Other apes can swing in the air, but the gibbon almost swims.

The Small Mammals' House holds a happy family. A pair of caracals mated last year in the Gardens, and early this year the mother caracal presented the father (who was shut outside, and has not yet been allowed to see his offspring) with a pair of kittens. There is nothing prettier in the " Zoo." The kittens are miniature editions of their mother, like small lynxes, with long pointy ears, black outside and white inside. They have black smudges on their cheeks, like inky children, and their mother washes them much more than they like. None of the cats is fiercer than the caracal, and the keeper cannot touch the kittens until be has coaxed the mother into another cage and shut her off. Then he goes in to get a kitten, and both of them hunch up their backs and snarl and hiss. There never were such furious little creatures. But they will allow them- selves to be stroked quite quietly, and merely stare at you out of the depths of their unfathomable olive-green eyes. The father, in a cage outside, is a fine fellow, the keepei remarks, but it would not be safe to let him in. " But he knows they're there

Two of the new aviaries are better known than the others,–.. the waders' aviary and the large open-air aviary by the canal for the parrots. Probably no bird on Whit-Monday and other Bank Holidays has so many questions asked about him as the ruff, who in his fights with other ruffs is very properly held to cut a quite ridiculous figure. A couple of duelling ruffs, standing near to each other with their beaks-by their toes, posturing and balancing like dancing-masters suddenly afflicted with cramp, will attract visitors from anywhere within sight. The parrakeets and cockatoos, of course, get a large audience. Nobody knows the best of a parrakeet who has not seen it make its long, noiseless flights from one end of the great wire aviary to the other. You can see little of the nesting operations, except here and there a jumbled heap of sticks, and an occasional glance of a parrakeet into a hollow tree-stem. But there have been several broods brought off in the aviary, particularly of cockatoos. Another aviary, the Small Birds' House, deserves a visit from ladies of fashion. It is full of birds of the brightest plumage. A wryneck who lives with a pair of hoopoes is a sober contrast; but he looks as if he were too hot, and would like to be out with the cuckoo in the wind. The hoopoes are a happy pair, very much delighted with each other; they run about all over the cage offering each other delicacies ; the cock carries a caterpillar a little while, and then gives it to the hen, who offers it him again. But the note of the house is struck by the birds-of- paradise, some of them moulting, but all superb. The comment suggests itself at once: " How like a ladies hat"! Perhaps Lord Avebury's Bill for preventing the importation of plumage will make the resemblance seem meaningless to visitors of a future generation.