CURIOUS creatures of Animal Life have been objects of interest to mankind in all ages and countries; the universality of which may be traced to that feeling which "makes the whole world kin."
The Egyptian records bear testimony to a familiarity not only with the forms of a multitude of wild animals, but with their habits and geographical distribution."
The collections of living animals, now popularly known as Zoological Gardens, are of considerable antiquity. We read of such gardens in China as far back as 2,000 years; but they consisted chiefly of some favourite animals, such as stags, fish, and tortoises.
The Greeks, under Pericles, introduced peacocks in large numbers from India. The Romans had their elephants; and the first giraffe in Rome, under Cæsar, was as great an event in the history of zoological gardens at its time as the arrival in 1849 of the Hippopotamus was in London. The first zoological garden of which we have any detailed account is that in the reign of the Chinese Emperor, Wen Wang, founded by him about 1150 A.D., and named by him "The Park of Intelligence;" it contained mammalia, birds, fish, and amphibia. The zoological gardens of former times served their masters occasionally as hunting-grounds. This was constantly the case in Persia; and in
Germany, so late as 1576, the Emperor Maximilian II. kept such a park for different animals near his castle, Neugebah, in which he frequently chased.
Alexander the Great possessed his zoological gardens. We find from Pliny that Alexander had given orders to the keepers to send all the rare and curious animals which died in the gardens to Aristotle.
Splendid must have been the zoological gardens which the Spaniards found connected with the Palace of Montezuma. The letters of Ferdinand Cortez and other writings of the time, as well as more recently "The History of the Indians," by Antonio Herrera, give most interesting and detailed accounts of the menagerie in Montezuma's park.
The collections of animals exhibited at fairs have added little to Zoological information; but we may mention that Wombwell, one of the most noted of the showfolk, bought a pair of the first Boa Constrictors imported into England: for these he paid 75l., and in three weeks realised considerably more than that sum by their exhibition.
At the time of his death, in 1850, Wombwell was possessed of three huge menageries, the cost of maintaining which averaged at least 35l. per day; and he used to estimate that, from mortality and disease, he had lost, from first to last, from 12,000l. to 15,000l.
Our object in the following succession of sketches of the habits and eccentricities of the more striking animals, and their principal claims upon our attention, is to present, in narrative, their leading characteristics, and thus to secure a willing audience from old and young.