The Romance of Natural History, ch. 12Edit

English originalEdit

I am therefore inclined to believe, that whatever discoveries of importance are yet to be made in African zoology, will be in the very central district; the region, that is, which lies south of Lake Tchad and Abyssinia, and extends to the equator. There is reason to suppose that lofty mountain-chains exist here, and geographical discovery has not yet even approached these parts. Many forms of high interest, and some of them of vast dimensions, may yet be hidden there.

It is highly probable that an animal of ancient renown, and one in which England has (or ought to have) a peculiar interest, resides in the region just indicated. I refer to one of the supporters of Britain's shield, the famed Unicorn. We may not, to be sure, find him exactly what the heraldic artists delight to represent him a sort of mongrel between a deer and a horse, with cloven hoofs, a tuft-tipped tail, and a horn spirally twisted to a point; but there may be the original of the traditionary portrait of which this is the gradually corrupted copy.

Dr Andrew Smith, an able and sober zoologist, who has investigated with much enterprise and success the zoology of South Africa, has collected a good deal of information about a one-horned animal which is yet unknown to Europeans, and which appears to occupy an intermediate rank between the massive rhinoceros and the lighter form of the horse. Cavassi, cited by Labat, heard of such a beast in Congo under the name of Abada; and Rüppel mentions it as commonly spoken of in Kordofan, where it is called Nillekma, and sometimes Arase—that is, unicorn. Mr Freeman, the excellent missionary whose name is so intimately connected with Madagascar, received the most particular accounts of the creature from an intelligent native of a region lying northward from Mozambique. According to this witness, an animal called the Ndzoo-dzoo is by no means rare in Makooa. It is about the size of a horse, extremely fleet and strong. A single horn projects from its forehead from two feet to two and a-half feet in length. This is said to be flexible when the animal is asleep, and can be curled up at pleasure, like an elephant's proboscis; but it becomes stiff and hard under the excitement of rage. It is extremely fierce, invariably attacking a man whenever it discerns him. The device adopted by the natives to escape from its fury, is to climb a thick and tall tree out of sight. If the enraged animal ceases to see his enemy, he presently gallops away; but, if he catches sight of the fugitive in a tree, he instantly commences an attack on the tree with his frontal horn, boring and ripping it till he brings it down, when the wretched man is presently gored to death. If the tree is not very bulky, the perseverance of the creature usually succeeds in overturning it. His fury spends itself in goring and mangling the carcase, as he never attempts to devour it. The female is altogether without a horn.[1]

When in the neighbourhood of the tropic, Dr Smith himself heard reports of a similar creature inhabiting the country north of that parallel. The persons who professed to be personally familiar with it, as well as a new kind of rhinoceros allied to R. Keitloa, were only visitors in the country it was said to inhabit, and, therefore, were unable to afford any very circumstantial evidence. It was, however, described as very different from any species of rhinoceros they had ever seen, with a single long horn situated towards the forehead. Dr Smith then cites the particulars given by Mr Freeman, introducing them with the following just observations:

"Now, though descriptions of objects by such persons are often inaccurate, from the circumstance of their not having been favourably situated for making correct observations, as well as from a deficiency of language calculated to convey the information they actually possess, I have always remarked, that even a hasty examination seemed to supply the savage with more accurate notions of the general character of animals, than it did the civilised man; and, therefore, I do not despair of species such as these mentioned being yet discovered. It is in regard to the species with the single horn that we experience the greatest hesitation in receiving their evidence as credible; and therefore, it is agreeable to have it corroborated by the testimony of a man from a very different part of the country, as obtained and published by a missionary of great research, who resided a long time in Madagascar."[2]

The rude drawings made by savages are often faithful delineations of the salient features of the objects familiar to them. Sir J. Barrow, in his Travels in Africa, has given the head of an unicorn, answering well to the ndzoo-dzoo, which was copied from a charcoal sketch made by a Caffre in the interior of a cavern. The copy was made by Daniell; and Colonel Hamilton Smith mentions having seen, among the papers of this artist, another drawing likewise copied from the walls of an African cave. In this were represented, with exceedingly characteristic fidelity, several of the common antelopes of the country, such as a group of elands, the hartebeest, and the springbok; while among them appeared, with head and shoulders towering above the rest, an animal having the general character of a rhinoceros, but, in form, lighter than a wild bull, having an arched neck, and a long nasal horn projecting in the form of a sabre. "This drawing," observes the Colonel, "is no doubt still extant, and should be published; but, in confirmation of the opinion that truth exists to a certain extent in the foregoing remarks, it may be observed that we have seen, we believe in the British Museum, a horn brought from Africa, unlike those of any known species of rhinoceros: it is perfectly smooth and hard, about thirty inches in length, almost equally thick throughout, not three inches in its greatest diameter, nor less than two in its smaller, and rather sharp pointed at top: from the narrowness of the base, its great length and weight, the horn must evidently stand moveable on the nasal bones, until excitement renders the muscular action more rigid, and the coriaceous sole which sustains it more firm, circumstances which may explain the repeated assertion of natives, that the horn, or rather the agglutinated hair which forms that instrument, is flexible.[3]

Much more recently, accounts have reached Europe of the same nature, confirmatory of the former, inasmuch as much of the value of such evidence consists in its cumulative character; but still only hearsay report. M. Antoine d'Abbadie, writing to the Athenæum from Cairo, gives the following account of an animal new to European science, which account he had received from Baron Von Müller, who had recently returned to that city from Kordofan:—"At Melpes, in Kordofan," said the Baron, "where I stopped some time to make my collections, I met, on the 17th of April 1848, a man who was in the habit of selling to me specimens of animals. One day he asked me if I wished also for an A'nasa, which he described thus:—It is the size of a small donkey, has a thick body and thin bones, coarse hair, and tail like a boar. It has a long horn on its forehead, and lets it hang when alone, but erects it immediately on seeing an enemy. It is a formidable weapon, but I do not know its exact length. The A'nasa is found not far from here, (Melpes,) towards the S.S.W. I have seen it often in the wild grounds, where the negroes kill it, and carry it home to make shields from its skin.

N.B.—This man was well acquainted with the rhinoceros, which he distinguished, under the name of Fetit, from the A'nasa. On June the 14th I was at Kursi, also in Kordofan, and met there a slave-merchant who was not acquainted with my first informer, and gave me spontaneously the same description of the A'nasa, adding that he had killed and eaten one not long ago, and that its flesh was well flavoured."[4]

  1. South Afr. Christian Recorder, vol. i.
  2. Illustr. of Zool. of South Africa.
  3. Cyclop. Bibl. Lit., Art. Reem.
  4. Athenæum, Jan. 1849

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