Malabar Manual Vol 1 Chapter 1. The DISTRICT
SECTION F.—Fauna of Malabar.
(By Rhodes Morgan, F.Z.S., Member of the British OrnithologistsUnion,
District Forest Officer, Malabar.)
In Appendix II will be found a list of the animals found in Malabar. To this list I might have added two new bats (Chiroptera) but as they have not been named as yet I not done so. They were discovered in the depths of the primeval ghat forests, and are chiefly remarkable for being clad with a long dense fur, I have found it impossible to give a detailed description here of the fauna of Malabar, the space at my command being so limited; but a short description of the habits and distribution of some of the more remarkable forms may be of interest.
The wild elephant is the most important animal of the district. Without his assistance, when domesticated, it would be difficult indeed to work the forests. Wherever you go in the forests you find numberless pitfalls excavated for his capture; but, as a rule, they are mostly old ones, half filled in. Numbers of elephants are captured by Nayars and Mappillas, and broken in for timber dragging, which is done entirely by the teeth ; the elephant seizing a thick cable made of grewia fibre in his trunk, and biting the end between his molars, drags the log, to which the other end of the cable has been made fast.
In wet and slippery weather, when going downhill, a log often gets such way on that the elephant’s jaw is either dislocated by the sudden jerk or a molar is pulled out. All elephants which are forced to drag timber in this brutal and irrational manner have their jaws very much disfigured by abscesses and suffer cruelly from toothache, often being laid up for months at a time.
Elephants are very abundant all along the chain of the Western Ghats and in the teak forests of Beni, Chedleth, and Koodrakote ; but here they are partially migratory, leaving Wynad in the heavy bursts of the monsoon for the drier climate of Mysore, where they eat quantities of the black saline earth in the salt licks and thus get rid of the innumerable intestinal worms, with which they are troubled.
When the domestic elephant, prompted by instinct, does this, the mahout thinks at once that he is ill, and the wretched animal is forthwith dosed with the most virulent mineral and vegetable poisons that the nearest bazaar is capable of producing, such as corrosive sublimate, arsenic, verdigris, croton-oil, marking-nut, nuxvomica, etc., mixed, up with such ridiculous ingredients, as bison flesh, peacock’s fat, etc.
I have heard frequent complaints of the “want of constitution of Indian elephants’’ and such like balderdash, but when we consider the brutal and wicked manner in which this, one of the noblest creations of God, is treated, is it any wonder that the wretched animal, however powerful its constitution, succumbs ? Think of the dreary marches of a newly-caught animal—which has already endured all the tortures of the damned in the khedda where it was captured—-over dusty plains in the hot weather, picketted out in the scorching sun, often without a drop of water to assuage its burning thirst, fed for years on coooanut leaves or the eternal banyan and fig, physicked when it is well and when it is ill, in a word—-physicked to death !
In Malabar the system of catching elephants is to dig groups of pitfalls on the pathways and beaten tracks the animal has made for itself, and which it is so fond of using. As a rule, those pits are dug a little way off the road and a tree felled across it to induce the animals to go round, but so artful are they, that a cautious old female will often suspect the trap, and carefully uncover the pitfalls, to prevent her more youthful companions from tumbling in. Elephants are often seriously injured and even killed in these pitfalls.
The gaur (Gareus gaurus) was in former years very abundant everywhere in the Malabar forests, but murrain has slain its thousands, and the native and European pot-hunters have, not been behind-hand in the work of destruction. I have heard well authenticated cases of Englishmen, who have shot three and four cow bison of a day and have left them to rot where they fell.
Now, bison are only to be found on the Bramagiri and Dindamul ranges of hills, in the Chedleth and Beni forests, and; in the ghat forests near Peria in the Wynad. In the low-country the gaur is found all along the slopes of the Western Ghats, from the Coorg frontier to near Palghat in the Chenat Nayar forests ; but they are nowhere abundant
Sambur (Rusa aristotelis).—This fine deer is almost extinct in the Wynad plateau proper, but is still fairly abundant on the spurs of the Western Ghats and on the Bramagiri range. It is also found all along the lower slopes of the Western Ghats, but is hot very abundant.
The spotted door (Axis maculata).—This handsome animal is abundant only near the foot of the Karkur ghat; elsewhere it is far from common,- and may be considered nearly extinct in the Wynad, where at one time it swarmed.
The tiger (Felis tigris) is rare in the Wynad, not uncommon all along the Western Ghats, where each tiger has his own beat and does not interfere - with his neighbour. As a rule, the tiger in Malabar is restricted to such parts where game abounds.
The panther (F. pardus) is particularly abundant at Manantoddy in Wynad, and in September and October may be heard roaring round your house in every direction. Woe to the dog that leaved his master’s house, even for five minutes; there at night.
The wild pig (S. Indicus) is common everywhere in the forests, but, is fairly kept in check by his natural enemies the tiger, pard, wild dog, and last, though not least, the native, who is very partial to, pork, even though it may be measly.
The South Indian wild goat (Hemitragus hylocrius) was abundant once all along the precipitous peaks and rocky hills of the Western Ghats from Naduvatam to near Valliyar, but it has been so ceaselessly persecuted by Europeans and natives alike, and the does so ruthlessly slaughtered, that where there were herds formerly of over a hundred, you rarely now meet with more than two or three, and on many great rocky ranges they are quite extinct.
The following interesting account of tame ibex is taken from the Madras Journal of Literature and Science, New Series, II, 82. It is sad to relate that those ibox have all been since ruthlessly shot down by persons who ought to have known better.
“No one lives upon this hill” (Malliattur hill-station, northeast of Alwaye), “but the chapel” “a very filthy little neglected church which bears a character of excessive sanctity”) “has a weekly visit from the priests at Malliattur, who at other times leave the chapel to the care of a converted herd of ibox, which graze on the steep hill-side and shelter in the sheds and outhouses.
“I saw fifteen of those very ugly goats about the knoll, all males, which was remarkable, and I should have entered them in this my diary as having distinctly monastic habits had I not been told that there were many more in number of the other sex just out of sight among the bushes, which silenced the suggestion.
These civilised members of a forest family have not lost all the habits of their race in general. They saunter with composure on edges as sharp as knives, and stand with all four foot upon a single point of rock. Nor are they less wary than the ibox tribe in general. Their cunning teaches them that they are safer in the sanctuary of the church than on their wanted haunts, the precipice; and having taken up their abode upon the sacred hill, they bask in perfect safety as if aware that it was consecrated.
“In one of the chapel offices a black buck was lounging on a bedstead, who know his place better than to take any notice of the heretic intruder, and such was evidently the feeling of the herd in general. This seems to speak of good intelligence, yet, judging by the head and face, the ibox is a sheepish jackass. Dull as those animals appear, they are said to have all the cleverness of priests, and, when anything goes wrong on the hill, one of the old bucks goes down immediately to report it in Malliattur.
“Only a few days ago one of these vigilant vergers is said to have taken the three-mile walk to ask a man in the village when he meant to pay that silver elephant he had promised to the church if the pitfalls he was digging should prove successful, an elephant having been taken and the vow forgotten.”— (Captain Fred C. Colton's account of a journey over the Annamullays for the purpose of examining the teak forests, etc.— Cochin to Annamullay. )
There are three fine species of large squirrels in Malabar. The Malabar red squirrel (Sciurus Malabaricus) is abundant everywhere in the ghat forests, and is also found in the ravines of the deciduous forests. There are two varieties : the one has a yellow tip to its tail and the other has a tail wholly black.
The large flying squirrel (Pleromys pelarista) is a very handsome animal. It is entirely nocturnal in its habits and very silent, only giving utterance to a low plaintive note at night. It grunts like a young pig when handled. The fur is beautiful and much valued. These squirrels are very abundant, but rarely seen, unless a forest is felled, when they fly out of their holes as the trees fall.
Of fishes there are innumerable species and varieties, and all waters teem with them. The most important amongst the sea-fish are the seer, the pomfret, mullet, barmin, and Nair fish. Sardines (Sardinella Neohowii) are very abundant at times and very cheap. They are extensively used as manure, and an evil smelling oil is manufactured from them.
Of fresh-water Ashes, the mahseer is the most important, and is found in most of the larger rivers. It does not, however, grow to such a size in those rivers as it does in the Cubbani in Wynad, where it is said to grow to over a hundred and fifty pounds in weight. In Appendix III will be found a list of the fishes of Malabar taken from Dr. Day’s work.
The Malabar District is very rich in its avifauna. The list in Appendix IV contains four hundred and twenty species of birds, most of which have been entered in the list on undoubted authority, Mr. Atholl MacGregor, late British Resident in Travancore, having collected them and drawn up a list from Jerdon’s “Birds of India,” which has served as a foundation for the preparation of Appendix IV.
Some few species, such as Lyncornis bourdilloni, Merula Kinisii, etc., have been entered, as it is very probable that they will be found to occur, both species having been procured in Travancore. No doubt there are errors in this list ; but it is next to impossible, without the most careful and systematic collecting, to got anything like a really correct list of the fauna of a largo district like Malabar.
Inserts and reptiles
It is simply impossible to give lists of the various species of inserts and reptiles that abound. It would take up a great deal of time and space, and both are here valuable. I have, however, given a list (Appendix V), though not a complete one, of the butterflies of the Wynad and the Western Ghats.
In Appendix VI will be found a list of the principal timber and forest trees of Malabar classified according to the forests in which they grow.