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On the Cut-toed Subplantigrades of the sub-Himalayas.
By B. H. HODGSON, Esq.
Amongst the very numerous mammals of these regions (135 species) the most interesting and least understood group is that I have denominated after Colonel Smith, the Cat-toed Subplantigrades, and to those who are still disposed to assert that the filum areadneum of natural classification can be traced by poring, how sedulously soever, over dry skins and drier bones, I recommend half an hour's consideration of the present group. All is chaos in recent systems with regard to the relations and position of these animals, which are represented in the subHimalayas by the Wáhs or Pandas, and by the Screwtails, and constitute respectively the genera Ailurus and Paradoxurus of Cuvier, to which Colonel Smith adds Galidictis (Galictis of Geoff.) I cannot pretend to remove this cimmerian darkness because it results from want of adequate information relative to the general structure, habits and economy, not merely of the species composing these two (or three) genera, but also of those constituting nearly all of the proximate forms. At least I do not find any adequate account of the majority of them, and I do find the greatest differences of opinion as to their true characters and relations prevailing among our most recent guides in zoology, such as Colonel Smith, Mr. Gray,† and Mr. Waterhouse, ‡ of whom the first upholds and attempts to carry out Cuvier's locomotive principle of subdivision, whilst the two latter entirely reject it. Cuvier knew little of the Wáhs or of the Screwtails. He defined or rather indicated the Genera late in his career from imperfect specimens transmitted immediately after their arrival in the East by Vaucel and Diard, gentlemen whom the Jardin des Plantes sent out to glean that harvest which English perverseness could not or would not take any sensible or intelligible steps to glean.§ I myself assisted Du Vaucel's researches
* Nat. Library, XIII. 155-174 and 190 --224.
+ Zool. Journal, Oct. 1836 and Catal. Brit. Mus. 1843. Zool. Journal, August 1839.
These steps can be but two, 1st sending out travelling naturalists, 2nd and far better, establishing concert with local residents: and that the Zoological Society with a revenue of 12,000£ per annum has yet taken neither, is a strong proof of radical defeet in the proceedings of that Society.
with alacrity. But at the same time I stated to the leaders of this science in England what a pity it was that want of ordinary measures on their part to secure the co-operation of their countrymen in the East should thus continue to prevent England's reaping the zoological harvest of her own domains; and I pointed to my own drawings, specimens and description of the structure and habits of Ailurus lying unused in their hands whilst their Journal was putting forth the mere crumbs gathered from Cuvier's* table, and whilst his active son-in-law was then preparing under my very eye and with my own aid to complete the supercession of what ought to have been from the first, and might even yet be in part, English researches. How and why my appeal failed I know not. They order these things better in France: and but for the untimely death of Du Vaucel and Diard, not merely the group of the Cat-toed Plantigrades, but every other group of Indian zoology, would have carried the permanent traces of English want, and French possession, of tact! I know not whether this revertence to the past may help to lead to that future concert and co-operation on our own part between the closet and the field, the men of home resources and the men of local opportunities, from which English zoology might yet derive such enormous advantages. But at least it will be allowed that the subject of my present paper has almost irresistably prompted this allusion to the past; for, on recurring to this group of animals after a lapse of 12 to 15 years, I find, not only the ample materials placed by me in 1833 within reach of my learned countrymen for the illustration of one genus (Ailurus) unused, (save for the completion of the dental formula,) at the sametime that the crudest statements relative to it continue to this hour to be put forth ex cathedra, but also the ample materials for the illustration of the other genus (Paradoxurus) which were not only collected but used and applied by Dr. Campbell and myself in 1835, as completely neglected, English writers on Indian zoology seeming to opine that it is a work of supererogation to consult the Transactions or Journal of the great local organ and channel of scientific research! I do not now possess materials for the elucidation of these
Zool. Journal, Vol. II. 419. Vol. III. 275.
+ As. Trans. Vol. XIX. pp. 72-86, where the structure and habits of 3 species are described very fully: And yet Mr. Gray in 1846 (Catalogue, pp. 9, 10) quotes these as undescribed. Nor is there any sign that Mr. Waterhouse or Col. Smith had ever
genera so complete in some respects as I formerly had. On the other hand I have added some fresh items to my former knowledge of the animals, and I can still refer to much that is valuable relative to those pristine investigations; and as the Wáhs or Pandas are animals as rare as they are understood, whilst the Screwtails, if commoner and better known, are still an enigma in many essential respects, I purpose to put together such an account of the organization and habits of both genera as my present appliances and means will permit.
In 1833 I transmitted to the Zoological Society a full and careful description of the habits and of the hard aud soft anatomy of Ailurus, in the composition of which I was assisted by Dr. Campbell, and which latter included a comparison with the anatomy of Ursus on the one hand and Ursitaxus on the other. What became of that paper I know not, and have now to regret that the original MS. was lost with many others of great value at the period of my hurried departure for Europe. But the memoranda I still possess contain many valuable particulars, which I now proceed to summarise.
Genus AILURUS, Cuvier.
Range. The Ailuri appear to be confined exclusively to the sub-Himalayas, no species having yet been discovered elsewhere. In these regions their habitat is limited to tracts between 7 or 8, and 12 or 13,000 feet of elevation, so that they tenant the Northern confines of the central region of the mountains and all the juxta nivean or Cachar region as far as the forests extend, far beyond the limits of arboreal vegetation; they do not dwell in the direction of the snows.
Manners. These quiet inoffensive animals in their manners and diet much resemble the Badgers of our land, the Lemurs of Madagascar, and the Racoons, Coatis and Potos of America, the last most nearly; but as few persons are familiar with these animals, I shall, to avoid the illustration of ignotum per ignotius, proceed to mark the differences from the first named animals, to wit, that the Badgers are sub-omnivo
referred to the Transactions. Let me add that in these allusions to the past I utterly disclaim complaint on my own part, but think that for those whom it concerneth advertence to the past may help the future.