Animal Intelligence, by Lloyd Morgan

from Animal Sketches (adapted)

The long-tailed cows of the Lama [Footnote: Lama: a priest or monk of Thibet and Mongolia who professes Lamaism, a kind of Buddhism.] herdsmen, they say, are so restive and difficult to milk, that, to keep them at all quiet, the herdsman has to give them a calf to lick meanwhile. But for this device not a single drop of milk could be obtained from them. One day a herdsman, who lived in the same house with ourselves, came, with a dismal face, to announce that the new-born calf of a favorite cow was dying. It died in the course of the day. The Lama forthwith skinned the poor beast and stuffed it with hay. This proceeding surprised us at first, for the Lama had by no means the air of a man likely to give himself the luxury of a cabinet of natural history. When the operation was completed we found that the hay-calf had neither feet nor head; whereupon it occurred to us that, after all, perhaps it was a pillow that the Lama contemplated. We were in error; but the error was not dissipated till the next morning, when our herdsman went to milk his cow. Seeing him issue forth, the pail in one hand and the hay-calf under the other arm, the fancy occurred to us to follow him. His first proceeding was to put the hay-calf down before the cow; he then turned to milk the cow herself. The mother cow at first opened enormous eyes at her beloved infant; by degrees she stooped her head towards it, then smelt it, sneezed three or four times, and at last began to lick it with the most delightful tenderness.

This spectacle grated against our sensibilities; it seemed to us that he who first invented this parody [Footnote: Parody: a burlesque or mimicking of something, usually written.] upon one of the most touching incidents in nature must have been a man without a heart. A somewhat burlesque circumstance occurred one day to modify the indignation with which this treachery inspired us. By dint of caressing and licking her little calf, the tender parent one fine morning unripped it; the hay issued from within, and the cow, manifesting not the slightest surprise or agitation, proceeded tranquilly to devour the unexpected provender. [Footnote: Provender: food, provisions.]

Poor, simple-minded old cow! But let us laugh at her in the right place. That she should fail to distinguish between the dead bundle and her living offspring is surprising. But being deceived, why should she think it odd to find hay inside? Ignorant of anatomy and physiology, she knows nothing about insides. Had she considered the matter—and it doesn't fall in the line of bovine rumination [Footnote: Bovine rumination: chewing a cud.]—she would doubtless have expected to find in her calf not hay but condensed milk. But if not milk, why not hay? She was well acquainted with the process of putting hay inside, why therefore should she be surprised to find hay inside? But of course she had never bothered her dear sleepy old head about any matter of the sort. And the moral is that we must not expect to find in animals that kind of intelligence which has no bearing whatever upon the life that they lead.

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In Scandinavia, as elsewhere, the bear is sometimes domesticated, and if taken young becomes quite tame, and is gentle in its disposition. It is not well, however, to annoy even a well-disposed bear; for Bruin, like the rest of us, resents practical jokes of too unpleasant a nature. A Swedish peasant had one who used to stand on the back of his sledge when he was on a journey, and the beast had so good a balance that it was next to impossible to upset him. One day, however, the peasant amused himself with driving over the very worst ground he could find with the intention, if possible, of throwing the bear off his balance. In this he succeeded, but not in the manner he expected. The bear retained his balance of body, but lost his balance of mind, becoming so irritated that he fetched his master, who was in front of him, a tremendous thump on the shoulder, which frightened the man so much that he had poor Bruin killed immediately.

An American writer gives another instance of ursine [Footnote: Ursine: pertaining to a bear.] irritability. A friend of his would persist in practising the flute near his tame black bear. Bruin bore this in silence for a while, went so far indeed as himself to try and play the flute on his favorite stick; but at last he could stand it no longer, and one morning knocked the flutist's tall hat over his eyes. If any act of retribution is justifiable this was. To practise the flute anywhere within earshot is annoying; to do so in a tall hat would be simply exasperating.

It would be easy to fill a small volume with anecdotes of captive bears. They would show that Bruin is not so stupid as he is sometimes painted, even if they did not altogether justify the Swedish saying that the bear unites the wit of one man with the strength of ten. Frank Buckland's bear, Tiglath Pileser, was cute enough to know where to find the sweet stuff, of which he, in common with his race, was so inordinately fond; for one day when he had broken his chains he was found in a small grocer's shop seated on the counter, and helping himself with liberal paw to brown sugar and lollipops, to the no small discomfort of the good woman who kept the shop. A black bear in America had a weakness for chickens. His master noticed the thinning of the poultry yard, and suspicion fell on Bruin owing to the feathers which lay round his pole. They could not catch him in the act however. He was too sharp for that, and if disturbed, when he had but half demolished [Footnote: Demolished: destroyed.] a pullet he would hastily sit on the remainder and look as innocent as could be. He was discovered at last, however, by the cackling of a tough old hen which he had failed to silence.

—LLOYD MORGAN (adapted).

[Footnote: Do the incidents related seem real or exaggerated? Has the author used the element of surprise effectively? Illustrate. Would you judge that the writer was a scientist? Why?]

Louise de la Ramee