It is a common but erroneous idea, that when any danger threatens a herd, the bulls or males will attempt to protect the females and young. In the first place bull-elephants, he-buffaloes and wild-boars are seldom found with their herds, preferring to wander about by themselves, only joining their families occasionally to court the females. Should any adult male happen to be with the herd when a a alarm is given, it is generally the first to bolt. An old female will often act as leader of the herd, and, if the nature of the danger is unknown, will advance to ascertain what it is. Herd elephants will sometimes combine to help a member out of a pit, and buffaloes will charge an enemy in a body; but as a rule each wild animal looks after itself only. Should a female give birth to a young one, the rest of the herd will not regulate their movements to the needs of the mother and helpless offspring, but move off unconcernedly. A motherless calf or fawn will usually be butted and kicked and otherwise maltreated by all the rest. Leopards and bears, so far from helping wounded companions, will attack them if they cry out in pain.
It is very doubtful whether there is in this island any particular season when female wild animals drop their young. In countries where there is a winter season the necessity for a breeding season is obvious enough ; but where, as in the low-country of Ceylon, the temperature varies only a few degrees throughout the year, and food and water are almost always to be obtained, there is no reason why breeding among wild animals should not go on all the year round. It is also very doubtful whether bucks invariably shed their horns annually, or whether there is any particular season when they shed them.
People who have had little to do with wild beasts commonly regard elephants, leopards, bears, etc., as ferocious creatures, always prowling about " seeking whom they may devour." It may, however, be taken as a truth that wild animals are ordinarily far more afraid of human beings than the latter are o them. The only desire of all wild creatures, always excepting "rogue" elephants and man-eating leopards and crocodiles, all of which are exceedingly rare, is to escape when they happen to meet men. It is only when wounded, cornered or taken by surprise, that they will attack. Even when actually trampling on, biting or clawing their victims, wild beasts will sometimes be seized with panic and bolt. The forest creatures also fear each other, and herds of different species, both harmless , will not commonly feed in the immediate vicinity of each other.
The marvellous way in which the colours of wild animals harmonize with their usual surroundings, always impresses observant sportsmen. The slatey hue of elephants makes them almost invisible at night or when standing in the deep shade of the high forest in which they take shelter during the day; grey-yellow spotted leopards standing or crouching in forest flecked with light by the morning or evening sun are most difficult to distinguish; the black hides of bears, relieved with patches of white on head and breast, make it impossible to see them when wandering about in the forest at night or when lying in dark caves or hollow trees ; the dappled coats of spotted deer standing still in glades bordered by trees covered with many-tinted leaves are often indiscernible till they flick their tails exposing the white underneath ; the colour of crocodiles closely assimilates to the mud on which they lie during the day ; and numbers of other animals, reptiles and birds are so marked and tinted by nature that their colour not only hides them from their enemies, but enables them to secure their food more easily.
There is an everlasting struggle for existence going on in the forest. What with danger from hunters, carnivorous beasts and males of their own species, the life of wild animals is one long watch, the result being that in the course of many generations the senses of these creatures, sight and hearing, and especially smell, have become extraordinarily acute. The sufferings of the forest-denizens are frequently severe. Beasts of prey, being unable to catch their victims for days together, often suffer from extreme hunger, and all animals from thirst in the dry weather. ( ases of bears and pigs jumping down village wells, and of sanibhur and spotted deer going down to the sea and drinking the salt water in their extremity are common enough. The wild creatures of the forest frequently meet with accidents. Elephants, though extremely cautious in their movements, have often stuck fast in the mud of tanks and have been known to fall over precipices. Bears which had thrust their heads into hollows of trees to get at honey have been found in that position, being unable to withdraw them. Leopards have been lamed by thorns in their pads, producing deep ulcers which made it impossible for them to obtain food, resulting in their starving to death. It is probable that few wild animals, except elephants, leopards and bears, ever die of old age. All other animals, as soon as their muscles begin to stiffen and their senses to fail, fall victims to predatory beasts. The fate of most carnivores, when old and weak, is probably to be killed and eaten by their relatives.
It is generally supposed that dead wild animals are seldom seen. The stinking remains of sambhur, spotted deer and pigs, killed by leopards, may often be found-The rotten meat is soon disposed of by the forest-scavengers, pigs and jackals, and the bones by the porcupines and jungle rats. Shed horns boo, gnawed almost entirely away by these last, may sometimes be picked up. Dead elephants are not infrequently found, but they are generally trespassers on paddy-fields, which had been fired at by villagers and had afterwards died in the forest. It is a mystery what becomes of dead monkeys. Hundreds must die every year, but no one ever found the body of one which had died a natural death in the forest.
It is a curious fact, that natives, even jungle people who see wild animals almost every day, have many ridiculous and superstitious ideas in regard to them, the falsity of which would be made manifest in many instances by the exercise of a little common sense. These absui dities are repeated from father to son, and are so fully believed that few natives ever think of questioning them. A good many instances will be given m the following pages.