HYENAS, civets and cats make up a section of animals which walk on the tips of their toes. Most of them, excepting the hyasnas, are able to withdraw their claws when not in
use, thus preventing them from getting blunted. Civets are smallish animals, with sharp muzzles and long tails, and are usually conspicuously banded and spotted. Many of them are expert tree climbers and make their living on the various forms of life they encounter in such surroundings.
Half-way between them and the hysenas is the aardwolf of South Africa, which much resembles the hyasna but lacks its power. All the hyasnas are natives of the Old World; they are unattractive-looking creatures, with sloping hindquarters and immensely powerful teeth. But for their usual timidity, they would be formidable indeed. Probably they perform a very useful service to the people in whose country they live, as they are inveterate scavengers and clear away much decaying meat and offal.
The true cats represent a very high form of mammal; from a physical point of view, some of them may be said to have reached perfection, so well adapted are they for their chosen mode of living, and so perfectly is the balance held between strength and agility, often joined to great beauty of appearance.
The lion is usually placed first in popular estimation, but it may be questioned if the tiger is not a finer animal. Certainly in the Siberian variety he attains a greater size, and his skin is more strikingly marked. The leopard, however, has claims to be considered the perfect cat, for to speed and beauty of movement he joins a very quick mind, capable of acting like a flash.
The beautiful snow leopard of the highlands of Central Asia is a scarce and lovely creature. The cheetah, or hunting leopard, is found in Indian and Africa. In India it has been trained to hunt and is exceedingly swift for a short distance. It is longer in the leg than most cats and its claws are comparatively weak.
The lynxes are the most notable of the smaller types. They are all cold country animals and in winter grow a thick fur. They can always be distinguished by their short tails and tufted ears. There are numerous species of smaller cats, many of them little known. Some of them are of great beauty.
What are known as rodents or gnawing animals make up the most numerous order of all, consisting of over two thousand species. They include mice, rats, squirrels, beavers, porcupines, hares, rabbits, etc., etc. Among so many species only small differences exist in many cases, but for the most part rodents are small, timid mammals, breeding in great numbers.
To this last fact and to their insignificance they owe the firm hold they have taken on life and their presence in every part of the globe.
Their distinguishing feature, from which they take their racial name, is the perpetual growth of their front cutting teeth, which are always worn to a chisel-like edge and thus greatly assist them in their characteristic method of feeding.