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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 6

9. Chæropus occidentalis. — The Eastern Chæropus. — Landwang (native name.)

9. Chæropus occidentalis.

The Eastern Chæropus.

Landwang (native name.)

This singular animal which Sir Thomas Mitchell first discovered in his expedition to the Darling, June 16, 1836, is still found on the plains of the Murray; though it is exceedingly rare, and is disappearing as fast as the native population. The large flocks of sheep and herds of cattle occupying the country will soon disperse those individuals which are still to be found in the so-called settled districts, and it will become more and more difficult to procure specimens for our national collection.

During a period of six months, I encamped not far from the spot where Sir Thomas Mitchell secured his tail-less animal. I had the greatest difficulty in obtaining a few specimens, but succeeded at last, and as I believe that nobody has ever been able to observe the habits of this singular creature in a state of nature, I will quote from my diary, October 4th, 1857:—

"After returning from a short excursion into the scrub, I fell in with a party of natives who had succeeded, at last, in securing a pair of the Chæropus, (male and female.) They wanted all manner of things for them, from a pair of blankets to a cutty page 13 pipe; and as I was very anxious to sketch them from life I emptied my pockets there and then; and promised a grand entertainment for the night with plenty of damper and sugar and tea."

On arrival at the camp, the two animals were secured in a bird cage; and I was busy for several hours sketching my charges in different positions.

Gould's figures of Clæropus occidentalis are spiritless, being taken from dry skins. I was in the habit of showing a copy of Sir Thomas Mitchell's tail-less specimen to the natives, urging them to procure animals of that description; of course, they did not recognize it as a "Landwang," and I was furnished in consequence with a large number of the common Bandicoot (Perameles obesula) minus the tail, which, to please me, had been screwed clean out.

About sun-down, when I was about to secure my animals for the night, one of the nimblest made its escape, jumping clean through the wires of the cage.

At a quick pace it ran up one of the sandstone cliffs, followed by myself, all the black-fellows, men, women, and children, and their dogs.

Here was a splendid opportunity for observing the motions of the animal; and I availed myself of it. The Chæropus progressed like a broken down hack in a canter, apparently dragging the hind quarters after it; we kept in sight of the fugitive; and, after a splendid run up and down the sand hills, our pointer, who had been let loose, brought it to bay in a salt bush.

A large tin case was fitted up for the habitation of these animals, and provided with coarse barley grass, upon which, as the natives informed me, they feed. Insects, particularly Grasshoppers, were also put into the box, and, though they were rather restless at first, and made vain attempts to jump out, they appeared snug enough in the morning, having constructed a completely covered nest with the grass and some dried leaves.

During the day time, they always kept in their hiding places, and, when disturbed, quickly returned to them; but, as soon as the sun was down, they became lively, jumping about and scratching the bottom of the case, in their attempts to regain page 14 liberty. I kept these animals upon lettuces, barley grass, bread, and some bulbous roots, for six weeks, until the camp was broken up, when they were killed for the sake of their skins.

I think that about 8 specimens of this species were secured during our stay; several of which, proved to be females with good sized young ones in the pouch, which is very deep and runs upwards, not like that of a Kangaroo. All were provided with 8 teats, and bore 2 young ones, only one pair of teats being drawn.

I may mention here that the Chæropus drinks a good deal of water, but will neither touch meat nor attack or eat mice, as the other members of this family do.

Their dung, which I often examined when out hunting, was entirely composed of grass, very dry, about the size of sheep's trundles, but much longer, so that I believe, that in a state of nature, they feed principally upon vegetables. They are very good eating, and I am sorry to confess that my appetite more than once over-ruled my love for science; but 24 hours upon "pig face" (mesembryanthemum) will damp the ardour of any naturalist.

The young which I took from the pouch of several females, never exceeded 2 in number, and were so far advanced, that I conclude that the breeding season is in May or June. It is a curious fact, that the third toe in the fore feet of the Chæropus is much more developed in the young than in the adult animal: in fact, the former looked more like a young Perameles, than a Chæropus; the limbs being short and strongly made—the basal half of the tail, which in the adult is covered with long black hair, is of a dark purple colour in the nude young animal. The eye of this species, which is very large and brilliant, is represented much too small in Gould's figures.