To the Editor of the Scientific American:
In page 69 of your issue of 3d of February, 1883, I notice among the "Challenger Notes" of Professor Mosely the statement that "Among stockmen, and even some well educated people in Australia, there is a conviction that the young kangaroo grows out as a sort of bud on the teat of the mother within the pouch." Some eighteen months ago I noticed a paragraph wherein some learned professor was reported to have set at rest the contested point as to whether the kangaroo come into being in the same manner as the calves of the cow and other mammals, or whether the young grows, as alleged, upon the teat of its dam within the pouch. The learned professor in question asserted that it did not so grow upon the teat; but, with all due respect to the professor's claim to credibility on other matters, I must in this instance take the liberty of stating that he is in error. The young kangaroo actually oozes out, if I may use such an expression, from the teat. Strange as the statement may seem, it is a fact that the first indication of life on the part of the kangaroo offspring is a very slight eruption, in size not larger than an ordinary pin head. This growth gradually resolves itself into the form of the marsupial, and is not detached until close upon the expiring of of the fourth month.
It is carried by the mother during that period, and thenceforth exists partially at least on herbage. Indeed, from the fourth till the seventh month it is almost constantly in the pouch, only coming out occasionally toward the close of evening to crop the grass. I had at one time in my possession a specimen of the kangaroo germ which I cut from off the teat, complete in form, whose entire weight was less than an ounce; and, at the same time, I had a kangaroo in my possession which measured seven feet six inches from the top of the ears to the extremity of the tail.
Your readers would doubtless feel interested with a few particulars as to my life among the kangaroos in a genuine kangaroo country. I have read somewhere about the exceeding beauty of the eyes of the gazelle; how noted hunters have alleged that their nature so softened on looking into the animal's eyes that they (the hunters) had no heart to destroy the creature. Now, I have never seen a gazelle, and so cannot indulge in comparisons; but if their eyes are more beautiful than those of a middle-aged kangaroo, they may indeed be all that huntsmen say of them. With respect to the old kangaroos, their eyes and face are simply atrocious in their repulsive ugliness.
Nothing in nature could surpass the affection which the female kangaroo manifests for her young. There is something absolutely touching in the anxious solicitude displayed by the dam while the young ones are at play. On the least alarm the youngster instantly ensconces himself in the pouch of his gentle mother, and should he, in the exuberance of his joy, thrust his head out from his place of refuge, it is instantly thrust back by his dam. I have, on several occasions, by hard riding, pressed a doe to dire extremity, and it has only been when hope had entirely forsaken her, or when her capture was inevitable, that she has reluctantly thrown out the fawn. Their method of warfare has often reminded me of the style of two practiced pugilists, the aim of each being to firmly gripe his opponent by the shoulder, upon accomplishing which, the long hind leg, with its horny blade projecting from its toe, comes into formidable play. It is lifted and drawn downward with a rapid movement, and one or other of the combatants soon shows the entrails laid bare, which is usually the grand finale.
The sparring that takes place between the marsupials while trying to get the advantageous gripe is marvelous - I had almost said scientific; for the style and rapidity of the animals' movements might excite the admiration of the Tipton Slasher.
Strangely enough, these animals have their social distinctions almost as well defined as in the case of the human species. Thus, one herd will not, on any consideration, associate with another; each tribe has its rendezvous for morning and evening reunions, and each its leader or king, who is the first to raise an alarm on the approach of danger, and the first to lead the way, whether in ignominious retreat, confronting a recognized foe, or standing at bay. These leaders are generally extremely cunning, one old stager with whom I was intimately acquainted having baffled all attempts to effect its capture for more than ten months. I got him at last by a stratagem. He had a knack of always keeping near a flock of sheep, and on the approach of the dogs dodged among them.
By this means he had always succeeded in effecting his escape, and more than that, this noble savage had actually drowned several of our best dogs, for, if at any time a dog came upon him at a distance from the sheep flocks, he would make for a neighboring swamp, on nearing which he has been known to turn round upon the pursuing dog, seize him, and carry him for some distance right into the swamp, and then thrust the dog's head under water, holding him there till he was drowned. It was amusing to see how some of our old knowing warrior dogs gave him best when they noticed that he was approaching a flock of sheep, well remembering, from former experience, that it was of no use trying to get him on that occasion, and that when near the water the attempt at his capture was both dangerous and impracticable.
If you take a new and inexperienced dog into your hunt after an old man, he invariably gets his throat ripped up, or is otherwise maltreated until well used to the sport. After a dog has had one season's experience he becomes a warrior, and it is a wonderfully clever kangaroo that can scratch him after he has attained that position. The young recruit, if we may so speak of a dog who has never had any practice, is over-impetuous, rushing into the treacherous embraces of the close hugger somewhat unadvisedly, and is fortunate if he escapes with his life as a penalty for his rashness. The dog of experience always gripes his marsupial adversary by the butt end of the tail, close to the rump, or at its juncture with the spinal vertebrae. Once the dog has thrown his kangaroo, he makes for the throat, which he gripes firmly, while at the same time he is careful to keep his own body as far as he conveniently can from the quarry's dangerous hind quarters. In this position dog and kangaroo work round and round for some time until one or the other of the combatants is exhausted. It is noteworthy that the kangaroo will only make use of its sharp teeth in cases of the direst extremity.
On such occasions, however, it must be conceded that the bite is one of a most formidable character - one not to be any means underrated or despised.
Should those few incidents prove of sufficient interest in your estimation, I may state that I shall willingly, at some future time, forward you particulars of the "ways peculiar" of the emirs, bandicoots, wombats, opossums, and other remarkable animals, the observance of which formed almost my sole amusement during a rather lengthy sojourn in the bush of South Australia.
Adelaide, S.A., April, 1883.