Online Encyclopedia


Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V14, Page 381 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
Spread the word: it!
PENINSULA. 4. The western India type is difficult to characterize, and is in many respects intermediate between the two just preceding. It occupies a comparatively dry area, with a rainfall under 75 in. in. In respect to positive affinities, Sir Joseph Hooker In. pointed out some relations with the flora of tropical Africa as evidenced by the prevalence of such genera as Grewia and Impatiens, and the absence, common to both countries, of oaks and pines which abound in the Malayan archipelago. The annual vegetation which springs up in the rainy season includes numerous genera, such as Side and Indigofera, which are largely represented both in Africa and Hindustan. Palms also in both countries are scanty, the most notable in southern India being the wild date (Phoenix sylvestris) ; Borassus and the coco-nut are cultivated. The forests, though occasionally very dense, as in the Western Ghats, are usually drier and more open than those of the Malayan type, and are often scrubby. The most important timber trees are the tun (Cedrela Toona), sdl (Shorea robusta), the present area of which forms two belts separated ' by the Gangetic plain ; satin wood (Ckloroxylon Swietenia), common in the drier parts of the peninsula; sandalwood, especially characteristic of Mysore; 'iron-wood (Mesua ferrea), and teak (Tectona grandis). gradually extends over the Bay of Bengal, and is known as the north-east monsoon. A wind similar in character, but rather more easterly in direction, simultaneously takes possession of the Arabian Sea. The months of November and December form a transition period between the monsoon and the cold season. The most unhealthy period of the year follows immediately after the rains, when malaria is prevalent, especially in northern India. Fauna. Mammals.—First among the wild animals of India must be mentioned the lion (Felis leo), which is known to have been not Lion. uncommon within historical times in Hindustan proper and the Punjab. At present the lion is confined to the Gir, or rocky hill-desert and forest of Kathiawar. A peculiar variety is there found, marked by the absence of a mane; but whether this variety deserves to be classed as a distinct species, naturalists have not yet determined. These lions at one time were almost extinct, but after being preserved since about 1890 by the Nawab of Junagarh, they have once more become comparatively plentiful. A good lion measures from 9 to 92 ft. in length. The characteristic beast of prey in India is the tiger (F. tigrrs), which is found in every part of the country, from the slopes of the Tiger. Himalayas to the Sundarbans swamps. The average length of a tiger from nose to tip of tail is 9 ft. to 10 ft. for tigers, and 8 ft. to 9 ft. for tigresses, but a tiger of 12 ft. 4 in. has been shot. The advance of cultivation, even more than the incessant attacks of sportsmen, has gradually caused the tiger to become a rare animal in large tracts of country; but it is scarcely probable that he will ever be exterminated from India. The inalarious tarsi fringing the Himalayas, the uninhabitable swamps of the Gangetic delta, and the wide jungles of the central plateau are at present the chief home of the tiger. His favourite food appears to be deer, antelope and wild hog. When these abound he will disregard domestic cattle. Indeed, the natives are disposed to consider him as in some sort their protector, as he saves their crops from destruction by the wild animals on which he feeds. But when once he develops a taste for human blood, then the slaughter he works becomes truly formidable. The confirmed man-eater, which is generally an old beast, disabled from overtaking his usual prey, seems to accumulate his tale of victims in sheer cruelty rather than for food. A single tiger is known to have killed Io8 people in the course of three years. Another killed an average of about 8o persons per annum. A third caused thirteen villages to be abandoned, and 250 sq. m. of land to be thrown out of cultivation. A fourth, in 1869, killed 127 people, and stopped a public road for many weeks, until the opportune arrival of an English sportsman, who at last killed him. Such cases are, of course, exceptional, and generally refer to a period long past, but they explain and justify the superstitious awe with which the tiger is regarded by the natives. The favourite mode of shooting the tiger is from the back of elephants, or from elevated platforms (machans) of boughs in the jungle. In Central India they are shot on foot. In Assam they are sometimes speared from boats, and in the Himalayas they are said to be ensnared by bird-lime. Rewards are given by government to native shikdris for the heads of tigers, varying in time and place according to the need. In 1903 the number of persons killed by tigers in the whole of India was 866, while forty years previously 700 people were said to be killed annually in Bengal alone. The leopard or panther (F. Pardus) is far more common than the tiger in all parts of India, and at least equally destructive to life Leopard, and property. The greatest length of the leopard is about 7 ft. 6 in. A black variety, as beautiful as it is rare, is sometimes found in the extreme south of the peninsula, and also in Java. The cheetah or hunting leopard (Cynaelurus jubalus) must be carefully distinguished from the leopard proper. This animal appears to be a native only of the Deccan, where it is trained for hunting the antelope. In some respects it approaches the dog more nearly than the cat tribe. Its limbs are long, its hair rough, and its claws blunt and only partially retractile. The speed with which it bounds upon its prey, when loosed from the cart, exceeds the swiftness of any other mammal. If it misses its first attack, it scarcely ever attempts to follow, but returns to its master. Among other species of the family Felidae found in India may be mentioned the ounce or snow leopard (F. uncia), the clouded leopard (F. nebulosa), the marbled cat (F. marmorata), the jungle cat (F. chaus), and the viverrine cat (F. viverrina). Wolves (Canis lupus) abound throughout the open country, but are rare in the wooded districts. Their favourite prey is sheep, but Wolf tribe. they are also said to run down antelopes and hares, or rather catch them by lying in ambush. Instances of their attacking man are not uncommon, and the story of Romulus and Remus has had its counterpart in India within comparatively recent times. The Indian wolf has a dingy reddish-white fur, some of the hairs being tipped with black. By some naturalists it is regarded as a distinct species, under the name of Canis pallipes. Three distinct varieties, the white, the red and the black wolf, are found in the Tibetan Himalayas. The Indian fox (Vulpes bengalensis) is comparatively rare, but the jackal (C. aureus) abounds everywhere, making night hideous by its never-to-be-forgotten yells. The jackal, and not the fox, is usually the animal hunted by the packs of hounds occasionally kept by Europeans. - The wild dog, or dhole (Cyon), is found in all the wilder jungles of India, including Assam and Lower Burma. Its characteristic is that Dos it hunts in packs, sometimes containing thirty dogs, and does not give tongue. When once a pack of wild dogs has put up any animal, that animal's doom is sealed. They do notleave it for days, and finally bring it to bay, or run it down exhausted. A peculiar variety of wild dog exists in the Karen hills of Burma, thus described from a specimen in confinement. It was black and white, as hairy as a skye-terrier, and as large as a medium-sized spaniel. It had an invariable habit of digging a hole in the ground, into which it crawled backwards, remaining there all day with only its nose and ferrety eyes visible. Among other dogs of India are the pariah, which is merely a mongrel, run wild and half starved; the poligar dog, an immense creature peculiar to the south; the grey-hound, used for coursing; and the mastiff of Tibet and Bhutan. The striped hyaena (Hyaena striata) is common, being found wherever the wolf is absent. Like the wolf, it is very destructive both to the flocks and to children. Of bears, the common black or sloth bear (Melursus ursinus) is common throughout India wherever rocky hills and forests occur. It is distinguished by a white horse-shoe mark on its Bear. breast. Its food consists of ants, honey and fruit. When disturbed it will attack man, and it is a dangerous antagonist, for it always strikes at the face. The Himalayan or Tibetan sun bear (Ursus torquatus) is found along the north, from the Punjab to Assam. During the summer it remains high up in the mountains, near the limit of snow, but in the winter it descends to 5000 ft. and even lower. Its congener, the Malayan sun bear (U. malayanus), is found in Lower Burma. The elephant (Elephas indicus) is found in many parts of India, though not in the north-west. Contrary to what might be anticipated from its size and from the habits of its African cousin, file phaat. the Indian elephant is now, at any rate, an inhabitant, not of the plains, but of the hills; and even on the hills it is usually found among the higher ridges and plateaus, and not in the valleys. From the peninsula of India the elephant has been gradually exterminated,. being only found now in the primeval forests of Coorg, Mysore and Travancore, and in the tributary state of Orissa. It still exists in places along the lara:i or submontane fringe of the Himalayas. The main source of supply at the present time is the confused mass of hills which forms the north-east boundary of British India, from Assam to Burma. Two varieties are there distinguished, the gunda or tusker, and the makna or hive, which has no tusks. The reports of the height of the elephant, like those of its intelligence, seem to be exaggerated. The maximum is probably 12 ft. If hunted, the elephant must be attacked on foot, and the sport is therefore dangerous, especially as the animal has but few parts vulnerable to a bullet. The regular mode of catching elephants is by means of a keddah, or gigantic stockade, into which a wild herd is driven, then starved into submission, and tamed by animals already domesticated. The practice of capturing them in pitfalls is discouraged as cruel and wasteful. Elephants now form a government monopoly everywhere in India. The shooting of them is prohibited, except when they become dangerous to man or destructive to the crops; and the right of capturing them is only leased out upon conditions. A special law, under the title of " The Elephants Preservation Act " (No. VI. of 1879), regulates this licensing system. Whoever kills, captures or injures an elephant, or attempts to do so, without a licence, is punishable by a fine of 500 rupees for the first offence; and a similar fine, together with six months' imprisonment, for a second offence. Though the supply is decreasing, elephants continue to be in great demand. Their chief use is in the timber trade and for government transport. They are also bought up by native chiefs at high prices for purposes of ostentation. Of the rhinoceros, three distinct varieties are enumerated, two with a single and one with a double horn. The most familiar is the Rhinoceros unicornis, commonly found in the Brahmaputra Rhino- valley. It has but one horn, and is covered with. massive ceros. folds of naked skin. It sometimes attains a height of 6 ft.; its horn, which is much prized by the natives for medicinal purposes, seldom exceeds 14 in. in length. It frequents swampy, shady spots, and wallows in mud like a pig. The traditional antipathy of the rhinoceros to the elephant seems to be mythical. The Javan rhinoceros (R. sondaicus) is found in the Sundarbans and also in Burma. It also has but one horn, and mainly differs from the foregoing in being smaller, and having less prominent " shields." The Sumatran rhinoceros (R. sumatrensis) is found from Chittagong southwards through Burma. It has two horns and a bristly coat. The wild hog (Sus cristatus) is well known as affording the most exciting sport in the world—" pig-sticking." It frequents cultivated situations, and is the most mischievous enemy of the Wild ho& villager. A rare animal, called the pigmy hog (S. sal- vanius), exists in the tarsi of Nepal and Sikkim, and has been shot in Assam. Its height is only lo in., and its weight does not exceed 12 lb. The wild ass (Equus hemionus) is confined to the sandy deserts of Sind and Cutch, where, from its speed and timidity, wild ass. it is almost unapproachable. Many wild species of the sheep and goat tribe are to be found in the Himalayan ranges. The Ovis ammon and O. poli are Tibetan rather than Indian species. The urial and the shapu are Sheep and kindred species of wild sheep (Ovis vignei), found respec- goats. tively in Ladakh and the Suleiman range. The former comes down to 2000 ft. above the sea, the latter is never seen at altitudes lower than 12,000 ft. The barhal, or blue wild sheep (O. nahura), and the markhor and tahr (both wild goats), also inhabit the Himalayas. A variety of the ibex is also found there,,as well as in the highest ranges of southern India. The sarau (Nemorhaedus bubalinus), allied to the chamois, has a wide range in the mountains of the north, from the Himalayas to Assam and Burma. The antelope tribe is represented by comparatively few species, as compared with the great number peculiar to Africa. The antelope Antelopes. Proper (Antilope), the " black buck " of sportsmen, is very generally distributed. Its special habitat is salt plains, as on the coast-line of Gujarat and Orissa, where herds of fifty does may be seen, accompanied by a single buck. The doe is of a light fawn colour and has no horns. The colour of the buck is a deep brown-black above, sharply marked off from the white of the belly. His spiral horns, twisted for three or four turns like a corkscrew, often reach the length of 30 in. The flesh is dry and unsavoury, but is permitted meat for Hindus, even of the Brahman caste. The nilgai, or blue cow (Boselaephus tragocamelus) is also widely distributed, but specially abounds in Hindustan Proper and Gujarat. As with the antelope, the male alone has the dark-blue colour. The nilgai is held peculiarly sacred by Hindus, from its fancied kinship to the cow, and on this account its destructive inroads upon the crops are tolerated. The four-horned antelope (Tetracerus quadricornis) and the gazelle (Gazella bennetti), the chinkara or " ravine deer'' of sportsmen, are also found in India. The king of the deer tribe is the sdmbhar or jai-au (Cervus unicolor), erroneously called " elk " by sportsmen. It is found on the forest-Deer. clad hills in all parts of the country. It is of a deep-brown colour, with hair on its neck almost like a mane; and it stands nearly 5 ft. high, with spreading antlers nearly 3 ft. in length. Next in size is the swamp deer or bara-singha, signifying " twelve points " (C. duvauceli), which is common in Lower Bengal and Assam. The chital or spotted deer (C. axis) is generally admitted to be the most beautiful inhabitant of the Indian jungles. Other species include the hog deer (C. porcinus), the barking deer or muntjac (Cervulus muntjac), and the chevrotain or mouse deer (Tragulus meminna). The musk deer (Moschus moschiferus) is confined to Tibet. The ox tribe is represented in India by some of its noblest species. The gaur (Bos gaurus), the " bison " of sportsmen, is found in all Bison. the hill jungles of the country, in the Western Ghats, in Central India, in Assam, and in Burma. This animal sometimes attains the height of 20 hands (close on 7 ft.), measuring from the hump above the shoulder. Its short curved horns and skull are enormously massive. Its colour is dark chestnut, or coffee-brown. From the difficult nature of its habitat, and from the ferocity with which it charges an enemy, the pursuit of the bison is no less dangerous and no less exciting than that of the tiger or the elephant. Akin tothegaur, though not identical, are the gaydl or mithun (B. frontalis), confined to the hills of the north-east frontier, where it is domesticated for sacrificial purposes by the aboriginal tribes, and the tsine or banting (B. sondaicus), found in Burma. The wild buffalo (Bos Buffalo. bubalus) differs from the tame buffalo only in being larger and more fierce. The finest specimens come from Assam and Burma. The horns of the bull are thicker than those of the cow, but the horns of the cow are larger. A head has been known to measure 13 ft. 6 in. in circumference, and 6 ft. 6 in. between the tips. The greatest height is 6 ft. The colour is a slaty black; the hide is immensely thick, with scanty hairs. Alone perhaps of all wild animals in India, the buffalo will charge unprovoked. Even tame buffaloes seem to have an inveterate dislike to Europeans. The rat and mouse family is only too numerous. Conspicuous in it is the loathsome bandicoot (Nesocia bandicota), which sometimes Rat trihe. measures 2 ft. in length, including its tail, and weighs 3 lb. It burrows under houses, and is very destructive to plants, fruit and even poultry. More interesting is the tree mouse (Vandeleusia), about 7 in. long, which makes its nest in palms and bamboos. The field rats (Mus mettada) occasionally multiply so exceedingly as to diminish the out-turn of the local harvest, and to require special measures for their destruction. Birds.—The ornithology of India, though it is not considered so rich in specimens of gorgeous and variegated plumage as that of Birds. other tropical regions, contains many splendid and curious varieties. Some are clothed in nature's gay attire, others distinguished by strength, size and fierceness. The parrot tribe is the most remarkable for beauty. Among birds of prey, four vultures are found, including the common scavengers (Gyps indicus and G. bengalensis). The eagles comprise many species, but none to surpass the golden eagle of Europe. Of falcons, there are the peregrine (F. peregrinus), the sham (F. peregrinator), and the lagar (F. jugger), which are all trained by the natives for hawking; of hawks, the shikara (Astur badius), the goshawk (A. palumbarius), and the sparrow-hawk (Accipiter nisus). Kingfishers of various kinds and herons are sought for their plumage. No bird is more popular with natives than the mama (Acridotheres tristis), a member of the starling family, which lives contentedly in a cage, and can be taught to pronounce words, especially the name of the god Rama. Water-fowl are especially numerous. Of game-birds, the floriken (Sypheotis aurita) is valued as much for its rarity as for the delicacy of its flesh. Snipe (Gullinago coelestis) abound at certain seasons, in such numbers that one gun has been known to make a bag of onehundred brace in a day. Pigeons, partridges, quail, plover, duck, teal, sheldrake, widgeon—all of many varieties—complete the list of small game. The red jungle fowl (Gallus ferrugineus), supposed to be the ancestor of our own poultry, is not good eating; and the same may be said of the peacock (Pavo cristatus), except when young. The pheasant does not occur in India Proper, though a white variety is found in Burma. Reptiles.—The serpent tribe in India is numerous; they swarm in all the gardens, and intrude into the dwellings of the inhabitants, especially in the rainy season. Most are comparatively Reptile, harmless, but the bite of others is speedily fatal. The cobra di capello (Naia tripudians)—the name given to it by the Portuguese, from the appearance of a hood which it produces by the expanded skin about the neck—is the most dreaded. It seldom exceeds 3 or 4 ft. in length, and is about if in. thick, with a small head, covered on the forepart with large smooth scales; it is of a pale brown colour above, and the belly is of a bluish-white tinged with pale brown or yellow. The Russelian snake (Vipera russellii), about 4 ft. in length, is of a pale yellowish-brown, beautifully variegated with large oval spots of deep brown, with a white edging. Its bite is extremely fatal. Itinerant showmen carry about these serpents, and cause them to assume a dancing motion for the amusement of the spectators. They also give out that they render snakes harmless by the use of charms or music,—in reality it is by extracting the venomous fangs. But, judging from the frequent accidents which occur, they sometimes dispense with this precaution. All the salt-water snakes in India are poisonous, while the fresh-water forms are wholly innocuous. The other reptiles include two species of crocodile (C. porosus and C. palustris) and the ghariyal (Gavialis gangeticus). These are more ugly in appearance than destructive to human life. Scorpions also abound. Fishes.—All the waters of India—the sea, the rivers and the tanks —swarm with a great variety of fishes, which are caught in every conceivable way, and furnish a considerable proportion of Fishes. the food of the poorer classes. They are eaten fresh, or as nearly fresh as may be, for the art of curing them is not generally practised, owing to the exigencies of the salt monopoly. In Burma the favourite relish of nga-pi is prepared from fish; and at Goalanda, at the junction of the Brahmaputra with the Ganges, and along the Madras coast many establishments exist for salting fish in bond. The indiscriminate slaughter of fry, and the obstacles opposed by irrigation dams to breeding fish, are said to be causing a sensible diminution in the supply in certain rivers. Measures of conservancy have been suggested, but their execution would be almost impracticable. Among Indian fishes, the Cyprinidae or carp family and the Siluridae or cat-fishes are best represented. From the angler's point of view, by far the finest fish is the mahseer (Barbustor), found in all hill streams, whether in Assam, the Punjab or the South. One has been caught weighing 60 lb, which gave play for more than seven hours. Though called the salmon of India, the mahseer is really a species of barbel. One of the richest and most delicious of Indian fishes is the hilsa (Clupea ilisha), which tastes and looks like a fat white salmon. But the enhanced price of fish and the decreased supply throughout the country are matters of grave concern both to the government and the people. Insects.—The insect tribes in India may be truly said to be in-numerable. The heat and the rains give incredible activity to noxious or troublesome insects, and to others of a more showy class, whose large wings surpass in brilliancy the most splendid colours of art. Mosquitoes are innumerable, and moths and ants of the most destructive kind, as well as others equally noxious and disagreeable. Amongst those which are useful are the bee, the silk-worm, and the insect that produces lac. Clouds of locusts occasionally appear, which leave no trace of green behind them, and give the country over which they pass the appearance of a desert. Their size is about that of a man's finger, and their colour reddish. They are swept north by the wind till they strike upon the outer ranges of the Himalayas.
End of Article: PENINSULA
SIR ISAAC PENINGTON (c. 1587-1661)
PENINSULA (Lat. paeninsula, from paene, almost, and...

Additional information and Comments

There are no comments yet for this article.
» Add information or comments to this article.
Please link directly to this article:
Highlight the code below, right click and select "copy." Paste it into a website, email, or other HTML document.