Chapter XXXVI. — Domestic Animals “Wild.”
Domestic Animals “Wild.”
Before Tutira had been taken up pig were very plentiful; small numbers of horses, cattle, and probably sheep also were already running on the station in a “wild” state.
Of horses and cattle there is little to tell; of the former a score or so had strayed from the derelict kainga Waipopopo. During winter they were compelled, in search of food, to wade like cattle into the scrub; like cattle, too, they broke down and devoured the branches of shrubs and small trees. From time to time a few were run into extemporised stock-yards, roped and broken in, the last survivor of the herd being a grey ridden for many years by myself.
Concerning wild cattle there is hardly more to say. They were never numerous; cliffs, under-runners, and boggy creeks exacted too heavy a toll. There were never more than enough to provide us with meat and amusement; indeed, in early times most of our beef was shot on Kaiwaka.
Pig, descended from stock landed originally by Captain Cook, had been distributed over the colony as I have imagined pot-herbs to have been at a later date—passed, that is, as gifts from village to village. Conditions were favourable to their spread; as ample a food-supply existed without as within the bounds of the native villages. It is likely, indeed, that pigs, as their number increased, may have been purposely allowed to become half wild, that they may have been hunted out of the cultivation-grounds owing to their inveterate habits of trespass. At any rate, both in the north and south island swine increased and multiplied—in the early 'eighties, indeed, there were in the centre and west of Tutira more pig than sheep; there, beyond rooting and re-rooting the few sheep-camps scattered far apart, no damage could page 352 be done. In winter, however, hundreds left these wildernesses of fern and invaded the grassed portion of the station; a sort of migration set in then towards the sown lands, where considerable tracts of turf were ploughed up and turned over in search of roots and grubs. It was in spring-time that serious harm was done. Every old rusty boar in the vicinity seemed to be aware when lambing was in progress. Amongst the newly-dropped lambs, concentrated from dusk to dawn on camping-grounds, great havoc was wrought, the marauders, with returning light, retiring to their distant lairs. The harm was always done at night; only once have I detected a boar at work in full daylight. It was attempting to secure a lamb just old enough to stagger after its dam, barely beyond that stage of life when any moving object, animate or inanimate, will be followed. The sense of fear, however, develops very fast in young animals. Even as I watched, the little creature was beginning to comprehend something of the anxious bleating of its mother. At any rate, in spite of hesitancy, it continued to keep a few yards in front of the boar, sometimes lingering as if in doubt, and sometimes trotting up to the bleating, agitated ewe, just sufficiently ahead to lure her offspring onward. In the rear, dodging in and out of the flax-clumps, the boar maintained a stolid chase. To my surprise he never attempted a rush, either from brainlessness or perhaps because from former experience he knew the certain results of the wearing-down process. Whether he would or would not have secured this particular lamb I knew not. He suddenly became aware of my presence and broke away in a clumsy gallop.
In colour “wild” pig are black, red and black, rusty red, red and white, and white, and bear a general resemblance to badly-fed, badly-bred swine of modern domesticated kinds. One incomprehensible trait in the wild sow is worth noting—her callous indifference to the fate of her suckers. I have killed at least hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pigs on Tutira, yet never have I known a sow evince the smallest concern for her progeny. Even a ewe will stand by a new-born lamb regardless of man and dog, but not the most heartrending squealings of a sucker worried by dogs will recall the cowardly, craven sow. The young are born into a warm comfortable nest of bracken or grass, and if taken in time make amusing and interesting pets. For that reason, and also doubtless because they eventually grew into pork, they were to be found in every Maori village, and in the old unsophisticated times used page 353 to accompany the shearing gangs on their rounds from station to station.1
1 One brought up on the station was quite a character. “Tommy,” as he was afterwards christened, when discovered some miles distant from the homestead, and selected out of five or six others, was a very baby but a day or two old. Taking thought of his frailty—I had yet a long day's work to do—he was swaddled in the waterproof strapped to my saddle, the reins drawn through a stirrup-leather, and my horse given his freedom. There were no fences in those days; the liberated nag trotted home without a halt to the homestead gate, where he was caught, the saddle removed, and the suckling exhumed safe and sound. “Tommy” had been taken—if I may say so, translated—so young that he grew up to consider himself half-man and half-dog, or rather half-man and half-puppy. He romped and ran with the station pups, who pretended to worry him, holding on to his long ears, growling, panting, yapping. He was very well able, however, to take care of himself, and could at any time terminate the play with a vigorous fling of his nose right and left. His more serious hours were spent in our company. He fed, if not with us, yet at our hands, at first drawing his milk from a teapot, later being promoted to a little trough of his own. The old dogs free and unchained condoned his presence as dogs do, accepting him as one of the eccentricities of masters whose whims are law. It was odd to see their greetings, to watch the nostrils of the two animals meet: on the dog's part, the cold curiosity of the salute, the instant disillusionment; on the pig's, the brusque discourteousness. His chief friend was the married man; him he followed everywhere, even into the water, for the story that pigs cut their throats swimming was apparently unknown to “Tommy.” At any rate I have seen him swim after his friend in the boat and be lifted dripping and stiff out of the lake like a great black baby. With increasing age he became an adept at filching bones from the kennels of the chained-up dogs. It was then an advantage to him that he was conscience careless, that the higher standard of ethics reached by man and dog were unknown to him. There was no concealment of his thefts—he knew no better law. The dog, on the other hand, was handicapped by a deeper insight into the nature of things. After the first instinctive snarling rush to protect his property, conscience awoke in him; remembrance obtruded itself that the black marauder was in some way the property of his master, that he was tapu, that he himself as a dog had perhaps done wrong even in resenting the theft. Consideration like an angel came and whipped the offending Adam out of him; at any rate it was the dog who would bolt to kennel with his tail between his legs, whilst the pig brazenly enjoyed the stolen goods. It was impossible to watch “Tommy” and deny to him a genuine sense of humour. Often to our wool-shed drafting-yards he would follow the shepherds with their dogs. There it was that his peculiar sense of fun found expression; a satisfaction that never palled was the stalking and rousing of a drowsy dog. The jest had probably its origin in chance, or in congenital rudeness, and only became with repetition established as a habit. After a long morning's work and not infrequently a gorge at the gallows, the satiated sheep-dogs are wont to lie half-asleep in a comatose or torpid condition in the shade of the rails. That was “Tommy's” chance: like a man attempting to outwit a horse hard to catch, his method was at first to contrive to be noticed moving away from his destined prey. With indeterminate movements he would further lull his victim, then advancing cautiously and quietly, would violently punch the dog in the paunch and listen to his howl of mingled anguish and surprise. I do not remember in “Tommy” any ostentatious sign of satisfaction: his line was that the dog's body had happened to meet his nose, that the whole affair was an accident. Watching from the yards, we used to credit him with the sly impudence of glancing up with head aslant after the manner of pigs, as if pretending to pause and listen, in doubt as to whether his ears had deceived him, whether he had really heard or not heard a howl of anguish. He would then continue his pretence of searching for something on the ground. Sometimes, with the predilection for wandering that characterises the pig race, “Tommy” strayed far afield. One morning, noticing on the hillside what I mistook for a wild pig, I put the hunting dogs on his trail, and arriving breathless on their heels found the three of them together, “Tommy” grunting out explanations, the mastiffs listening with friendly wagging tails; before my arrival they had settled it was all a mistake. “Tommy” was offered a few bits of fern-root by way of apology, and the four of us returned together. One of his great pleasures was to be scratched. Regardless of the sides of bacon dangerously exposed in the process, he would lie first on one side then upon the other, his eyes closed in ecstasy, enraptured, like a woman having her hair combed. In later life he became, like all pig pets, rough, brutal, even hunnish in his manners. He was finally presented, when he would no longer take “No” for an answer, to Joe Raniera and Hepe, his helpmate, then fencing on Tutira. With them for several seasons he shared bed and board.
In early times on unstocked country, wild dogs lived on such ground birds as were procurable; but their mainstay was pig, and pig, rather remarkably, they continued to hunt long after their wilds had been stocked with sheep. The upland Patea country in Hawke's Bay was taken up and stocked in the 'sixties. Wild dogs were there unusually numerous, yet for several seasons sheep, I have been told by the late Mr W. Birch, remained untouched, the dogs for a time either desisting from fear of latent possibilities in the new animal, or from mere force of habit continuing to follow their original game.
When a mixed pack worries, the predominating trait of each breed asserts itself, the mongrels of bull-dog and mastiff extraction throttling the wretched sheep, the collie curs holding the huddled flock together and preventing it from scattering in a hundred directions.1
1 No shepherd can have owned a team of dogs without speculation as to the herding habit of the breed, the essence of which is to head and hold. Pups but a few days alive to light will on a hillside watch fowls or ducks or chickens, carefully keeping them together, running ahead of them, checking stragglers, “working” them carefully and correctly. This passion for watching and working stock is of so overmastering a nature that sometimes a young unbroken collie will instantly, when freed, bolt for the hills and there remain till dark, moving ahead of the little flock he has gathered, holding them together, shepherding them harmlessly and delightedly for hours without order or tuition, behaving as his forefathers did behave in the dim past, and as his descendants will behave in the remote future. In the pup there is no sign of a wish to drive, in the young unbroken dog there is no sign of a desire to heel stock—in short, herding and heading shows the collie instinct unmodified, driving shows it warped to the will of man. The origin of an instinct no wise man will attempt to fathom whilst the puzzle of priority in nature of the hen and of the hen's egg is unsolved, yet something may be ventured as to the use of the herding habit to its prehistoric possessors and of its exploitation by man. In the canine race, the stalk and momentary final pause ere leaping upon prey, the carriage of game dead and alive to den and earth, are, equally with the herding trait, primordial instinctive actions: basal, spontaneous, elemental, innate, they have no more been invented, superadded, or taught by man to beast than breathing, feeding, or perambulation. Each of these three instinctive actions has been originally wholly for the benefit of the animal itself. There exists, however, this vast difference betwixt two of these actions and the third, that whereas the stalk and momentary pause and the carrying of game are actions in each case concerning one animal only and its prey, the herding instinct could only have been useful to its possessor in combination with a partner. The ancestral collie has, I believe, herded and held together flocks of some sort in conjunction with another beast less active though more powerful; the latter has struck down the huddled victims, their carcases have then been shared. There has existed, though now the connection is lost, one of those natural alliances or associations between two wild breeds, such as is to be found to this day in the relationship of the bee-bird to man, in the crocodile-bird to the crocodile, in the pilot-fish to the shark. The ousting of the dog's original comrade in this hunting partnership has been a matter of easy accomplishment. Pups have been captured and bred in domestication. Thus reared they have herded as perfectly for the savage ancestors of man as their descendants for the nineteenth century shepherds of Tutira. Often when mustering I have had occasion to remark the amazing combination of sense and senselessness in a collie's work, the instinctive portion of it so perfect, the rest so lacking in intelligence. It not infrequently happens on such ground as Tutira that a shepherd finds himself on one side of a long gorge or rift whilst sheep are on the other. To gather them, starting the collie from behind him, the dog is worked wide to head the gorge. The sheep are rounded up, the dog attempting to bring them in a straight line to his master. If left to his own devices he will continue to try to drive them across that gorge, a gorge which he knows to be impassable, for when whistled off he does not attempt it himself, but returns as he went. A collie in the same way will attempt to bring sheep in a straight line to his master through a strip of bracken so dense that when called off he will himself run round it. His work is perfect up to a point, but rigid, limited, incapable of modification. His instinct ordains that without movableness or shadow of turning all stock shall be brought in a straight line; so must it be. The gorge and the strip of bracken are barriers beyond his mental vision.
Nothing good can be said of the wandering cat; the evil wrought by the roaming brutes outweighs by far the good. Though not rare on the run, they are seldom seen except during heavy rainstorms, when many half-drowned specimens crowd in for shelter. During one such period of heavy weather eleven unknown cats were shot in a day or two prowling about the men's quarters and cook-shop. Kittens must wander at an early age, for splitter's camp, six miles from the homestead, and twice that distance from any other human habitation, was visited by a kitten which allowed itself to be tamed and was eventually carried back to the station.
In the 'eighties there were many patches of bush and scrub, chiefly on eastern Tutira, each of which maintained its little herd of wild sheep, rebels to station rule. These irreconcilables had never been yarded and wore their tails long as a visible sign of independence. They were a race apart, a peculiar people, maintaining their own customs like tribes driven to desert or mountain-top. Excepting after rain, when they emerged to dry themselves, they never mixed or fed with ear-marked, docked, domesticated stock. Then on the tops they were conspicuous by reason of the bright cleanness of the short rain-scoured wool on their backs. Their heads, necks, and the fore-end of their bodies were scraped almost bare by contact with timber; about their hind-quarters hung matted petticoats, the growth of years, often reaching to the ground. At the least alarm the brief connection of wild and tame was severed, the wild animals bolting downhill to their woodland fastnesses, the page 356 tame following ancestral habit and drawing on to the tops. The wild rams confined themselves to their own harems, or if, as very rarely happened, a more amative male emerged, he was detected and run down with dogs. From time to time these little companies or portions of them were raked in as chance favoured. Beyond leading the tame sheep astray at musters they did no harm; they were, indeed, rather an interest, the possibility of their capture giving a zest to the musters of early times. There were also larger mobs of wild sheep on several of the Waikoau cliff boundaries—cliffs not, as nowadays, densely overgrown with manuka, but then thick with anise and native grasses.
One of these little septs or clans deserves special mention, as doubtless its environment was the essential factor in a change of colour of fleece very rare or perhaps unique in wild nature. The flock in question ran on the wooded cliffs of a portion of the Opouahi block, a locality cut into irregularly sized sections by narrow waterless ravines beginning above as deep sink-holes and terminating below in the impassable gorge of the upper Waikoau. The Opouahi block, about three thousand acres in extent when first known to me in the 'eighties, formed a portion of Hindmarsh's Rakamoana station; as an outlying corner cut off from that run by intervening gorges and impenetrable belts of bush it was probably considered valueless to its real owner. At any rate he made no use of it; it was stocked by the then owner of Putorino, who wintered on it some three thousand hard-fed merino wethers. Now it always happens that in considerable mobs of dry sheep a proportion of ewes—two or three in a thousand, perhaps—are included by accident of earmark or by oversight in the drafting-yards. Thus there may have been ten or a dozen lambs born each season in Opouahi. In those days, however, the country was open and easy to muster clean. The likelihood is that any lambs born were swept up at the annual shearing muster, or if not, then at the secondary muster for stragglers.
In short, there were no more “wild” sheep in Opouahi than elsewhere. What makes me positive of this is that during the 'eighties one of my duties was to attend the Waikari draftings in order to pick out any “strangers” that might have boxed with those of that station. We were all shepherds in those days, and, as was natural, talk turned on events of camp and muster, the work of dogs, the good “turns” of particular collies, pig seen, feed, condition of stock—above all else, on the numbers of sheep brought in, for Putorino was at this date enduring page 357 the same pangs as Tutira: the number of sheep “short” after winter was a constant anxiety. Wild sheep were hardly mentioned; there was certainly no talk then of wild black sheep.
During the last years of the expiring Opouahi lease, when no steps could be taken in regard to felling and clearing the land, the proportion of blacks increased fast. There was reason to believe that a pure race of black merino, self evolved, was about to be established. Full accomplishment of this interesting natural development was frustrated by the obtainment of a proper tenure and the prosaic necessity of working country to the best advantage for which a large rent was being paid. Improvements, which have been the bane of Tutira from a field naturalist's point of view, now began also to desecrate Opouahi. Each year, starting from its east edge, a strip of the block was felled, fired, fenced, and sown. It was no longer possible for the wild sheep to escape their fate: their cliffs were bare, their hiding-places open to the light. Clan by clan they were rounded up and run into the drafting-yards.
- No. 1 lot—Eastermost strip, over 100 wild sheep; 20 to 25 per cent pure black, the larger number with white tips to their tails; 2 or 3 piebalds; the balance white.
- No. 2 lot—40 in number; 18 black, mostly with white tail-tips; no piebalds; balance white.
- No. 3 lot—About 50; rather more than half pure black, mostly with white tail-tips; no piebalds.
- No. 4 lot—16 sheep, all black; all with white tail-tips.
- No. 5 lot—About the same number of sheep as in No. 4; 2 or 3 pie-balds or white; the rest black, with white tail-tips.
All of these wild sheep—black, piebald, or white—were pure merino; all of the rams carried magnificent heads. It will be noted page 360 that the proportion of piebalds is insignificant, that the percentage of black varies in different lots from 20 or 25 up to 100 per cent, and that oftenest pure black sheep showed white tail-tips.
In attempting to account for this instance of melanism, the idea that a return to a feral state had anything to do with the matter may be dismissed. No length of time, let alone a brief possible fifty years, would suffice thus to change the colour of sheep gone “wild.” The sheep raided for mutton during the old starvation days of the 'eighties from the river faces of Land's End were white; the forty-three obtained by me in one haul from beneath the Razorback were white; the considerable proportion of wild sheep included in the nine hundred double-fleecers collected after weeks of work from the cliffs of the Mohaka by Mr George Bee contained only the normal proportion of blacks, two or three per thousand. In itself there is nothing remarkable in a black merino flock. There are, I believe, several such in Australia. It is the partial development of such a flock under conditions wholly natural that is noteworthy. Apparently there had happened on this wild corner of Tutira the very rare combination of suitable geological environment and happily fortuitous mating. Results were accomplished by chance which elsewhere have been obtained by a knowledge of the laws of breeding deliberately pursued.
Desire for high ground is still so marked among our modern breeds of sheep that it is difficult to believe that their ancestors did not live on mountain-tops. It is equally difficult to believe that animals feeding on ranges more or less covered with snow for long periods would have grown fleeces of any other colour than white. Be that as it may, certainly there is a strong tendency amongst domesticated sheep to break into black; it persists in the merino after hundreds of generations of elimination. White fleece will take dye, black will not; black rams have therefore been barred since the sheep has become a domesticated animal. In spite, however, of the selection of sires pursued through thousands of years, one lamb in three or four hundred is still born black.
My reading of the change of colour of the Opouahi wild flock assumes that in one of the ribbons of ground described, largely contained by natural boundaries, a black ram and black ewe mated and produced black progeny; that these again interbred until the black strain became fixed, until at length a sept became established reproducing only blacks. If this theory be accepted tentatively, the second step is to page 361 account for the remarkably rapid increase of blacks between the 'nineties and the early years of the present century. Configuration of the ground must again be taken into consideration—a series of narrow strips practically separate from one another except on the tops. On one of them we have supposed a minute flock of blacks to have evolved itself. In process of time this little sept would no longer be able to obtain feeding in its original strip. Other larger strips would be stocked, other little flocks would be invaded by members of our conjectural black flock. The smaller number of blacks found in the far selections may be in this way accounted for, the ewes of these strips having been for a lesser number of seasons in contact with No. 4 ribbon of ground, the strip assumed to be the black centre-spot. Interbreeding would have happened on a small scale, the rams of No. 4 strip only tupping the ewes of the sections into which they had spread immediately to right and left.
Increase of feed on the tops during the years when the block was unused throughout summer and autumn, tempting the wild flocks upwards from all the strips, would accelerate the change. From dusk to dawn on the tops there would occur interminglement of rams from every ribbon of land. Indiscriminate tupping of wild ewes would become the order of the day, black rams and white rams mating with black ewes and white ewes on the neutral ground of the tops. Furthermore, I think it is possible that all black ewes mating thus “held” to the black ram, and that it is likely that a large percentage of the white ewes also “held” to the black ram and produced black lambs, especially to males black for three or four or five or six or seven or eight generations; to rams, in fact, where the black strain may be supposed to have become more or less fixed.1
1 Passing through Canada on one occasion, I was taken to see a flock of Karakul on the foothills of the Rockies. Rams of this breed put to white “range” ewes throw about 99 per cent black lambs. Wensleydale ewes to this day, though black stock has been eliminated for generations, produce about 25 per cent of black lambs. The black drop seems in fact to be constantly attempting to reassert itself.
To recapitulate: We have in Opouahi an area of some seven or eight hundred acres cut into six or seven ragged sections, each of the them separated from the others by rents terminating at bottom in a river bed impassable for sheep, and on top expanding into open feeding grounds. There, on these narrow strips of precipitous land, sheep have possibly been in small numbers running wild since the date of the stocking of Heru-o-Tureia by Mr F. Bee half a century ago. Certainly in the 'eighties, when I first personally knew anything of Opouahi, no more wild sheep were in hiding there than elsewhere on Tutira.
By the middle 'nineties the lease of Opouahi was nearing its termination, the surface of the ground was fast deteriorating in carrying capacity because of scrub, the process continuing until at length it became impossible to work dogs. At last only a few hundred car-marked sheep were wintered each year for a few weeks. In late spring, summer, and autumn the block lay vacant; feed consequently became rank; the wild sheep, hitherto subsisting on bark, shoots of trees and fallen leaves, now for the first time drew on to the open tops, each sept or clan ascending at dawn and at dusk again retiring to its particular strip in the scrub. Thus protected by favourable environment from shepherds, with extended areas of feeding-ground, kept in excellent condition because of unlimited feed, the wild flock or flocks of Opouahi increased and multiplied. Each season augmented the percentage of blacks until at last one small sept had become entirely black, whilst throughout the whole flock there were about as many blacks as whites. Then, alas! a fresh lease was obtained, the surface of the ground was bit by bit cleared of scrub and bush, the wild flock destroyed, and the natural evolution of a pure black race of merino terminated. To me the rapidity of the alteration in colour is not less remarkable than the change itself. Whatever intensification of black blood may have occurred in a single sept, to outward seeming the change over the whole little flock happened in ten, or at the utmost twelve seasons.
1 I remember shortly after arrival in New Zealand watching the well-known dealer, Andrew Grant, picking “fats.” When asked by me for his hesitancy and discrimination in regard to several apparently prime blacks, his answer was that they “killed” badly. So many statements, nevertheless, continue to be accepted because it is nobody's interest to disprove them, that this dealer's belief is given for what it was worth. On the other hand, what Sandy Grant did not know of sheep was not worth knowing.