45. Reading Skills Comprehension: VEGETATION

By | February 17, 2020

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Read the passage given below and answer the questions that follow:

1.That large animals require luxuriant vegetation has been a general assumption which has passed from one work to another, but I do not hesitate to say that it is completely false and that it has vitiated the reasoning of geologists on some points of great interest in the ancient history of the world. The prejudice has probably been derived from India, and the Indian islands, where troops of elephants, noble forests, and impenetrable jungles, are associated together in everyone’s mind. If, however, we refer to any work of travels through the southern parts of Africa, we shall find allusions in almost every page either to the desert character of the country or to the numbers of large animals inhabiting it. The same thing is rendered evident by the many engravings which have been published of various parts of the interior.

2. Dr Andrew Smith, who has lately succeeded in passing the Tropic of Capricorn, informs me that, taking into consideration the whole of the southern part of Africa, there can be no doubt of its being a sterile country. On the southern coasts, there are some fine forests, but with these exceptions, the traveller may pass for days together through open plains, covered by poor and scanty vegetation. Now, if we look to the animals inhabiting these wide plains, we shall find their numbers extraordinarily great, and their bulk immense.

3. It may be supposed that although the species are numerous, the individuals of each kind are few. By the kindness of Dr Smith, I am enabled to show that the case is very different. He informs me, that in lat. 24′, in one day’s march with the bullock-wagons, he saw, without wandering to any great distance on either side, between one hundred and one hundred and fifty rhinoceroses – the same day he saw several herds of giraffes, amounting together to nearly a hundred.

4. At the distance of a little more than one hour’s march from their place of encampment on the previous night, his party actually killed at one spot eight hippopotamuses and saw many more. In this same river, there were likewise crocodiles. Of course, it was a case quite extraordinary, to see so many great 12 2 animals crowded together, but it evidently proves that they must exist in great numbers. Dr Smith describes the country passed through that day, as ‘being thinly covered with grass, and bushes about four feet high, and still more thinly with mimosa-trees.’

5. Besides these large animals, anyone the least acquainted with the natural history of the Cape has read of the herds of antelopes, which can be compared only with the flocks of migratory birds. The numbers indeed of the lion, panther, and hyena, and the multitude of birds of prey, plainly speak of the abundance of the smaller quadrupeds: one evening seven lions were counted at the same time prowling round Dr Smith’s encampment. As this able naturalist remarked to me, the carnage each day in Southern Africa must indeed be terrific! I confess it is truly surprising how such a number of animals can find support in a country producing so little food.

6. The larger quadrupeds no doubt roam over wide tracts in search of it; and their food chiefly consists of Underwood, which probably contains much nutriment in a small bulk. Dr Smith also informs me that the vegetation has a rapid growth; no sooner is a part consumed, than its place is supplied by a fresh stock. There can be no doubt, however, that our ideas respecting the apparent amount of food necessary for the support of large quadrupeds are much exaggerated. The belief that where large quadrupeds exist, the vegetation must necessarily be luxuriant, is the more remarkable because the converse is far from true.

7. Mr Burchell observed to me that when entering Brazil, nothing struck him more forcibly than the splendour of the South American vegetation contrasted with that of South Africa, together with the absence of all large quadrupeds. In his Travels, he has suggested that the comparison of the respective weights (if there were sufficient data) of an equal number of the largest herbivorous quadrupeds of each country would be extremely curious. If we take on the one side, the elephants hippopotamus, giraffe, boscaffer, elan, five species of rhinoceros; and on the American side, two tapirs, the guanaco, three deer, the vicuna, peccari, capybara (after which we must choose from the monkeys to complete the number), and then place these two groups alongside each other it is not easy to conceive ranks more disproportionate in size.

8. After the above facts, we are compelled to conclude, against the anterior probability that among the mammalia there exists no close relation between the bulk of the species, and the quantity of the vegetation, in the countries which they inhabit.

Adapted from: Voyage of the Beagle, Charles Darwin (1890)

 On the basis of your understanding of the above passage answer each of the questions given below with the help of options that follow:

(a) the author is primarily concerned with

(i) discussing the relationship between the size of mammals and the nature of vegetation in their habitat

(ii) contrasting ecological conditions in India and Africa

(iii) proving that large animals can do without food

 (iv) describing the sizes of animals in the different parts of the world

(b) According to the author the prejudice has led to (para1)

(i) errors in the reasoning of the biologists

(ii) false ideas about animals in Africa

 (iii) incorrect assumptions on the part of geologists

(iv) doubts in his mind

 (c) the flights of migratory birds (para 5) are mentioned to

 (i) describe an aspect of the fauna of South Africa

(ii) illustrate a possible source of food for the large carnivores

 (iii) contrast with the habits of the antelopes

(iv) suggest the size of antelope herds

 (d) Darwin quotes Burchell’s observations in order to

(i) counter a popular misconception

(ii) describe a region of great splendour

 (iii) prove a hypothesis

(iv) illustrate a well-known phenomenon

Answer the following questions briefly in your own words:

 (e) What was the prejudice that had affected the reasoning of the geologists?

(f) Why does Dr Smith regard Africa as a sterile country?

 (g) What is the ‘carnage’ referred to by Dr Smith?

 (h) What does Darwin refer to when he remarks, ‘if there were sufficient data’?

(i) How does Darwin explain the phenomenon of a country with so little food supporting such large numbers of animals?

 (j) What does the author conclude from the observations of Dr Smith and Dr Burchell?

(k) Find words from the passage which mean the same as each of the following:

(i) dense (para 1)

 (ii) barren (para 2)


 (a) (i);              (b) (iii);

(c) (iv);             (d) (i)

 (e) The prejudice that affected geologists was their tendency to associate large animals with lush vegetation. It probably arose from the case of India where this was the case.

 (f) During his travels across the southern half of Africa, Dr Smith noted that though there were some forests along the coast, the entire interior of the continent was covered by plains with scanty vegetation. This made him view it as a sterile country.

(g) The carnage referred to by Dr Smith is the amount of food that would have to be hunted to sustain a large number of carnivorous animals he had seen in southern Africa.

 (h) He is talking about the possibility of comparing the weights of herbivores found in South America and in South Africa. However, such data was not available.

(i) He believed the larger animals probably roamed over a large area trying to find food, and that their main food was the underwood, which provided them with good nutrition even in small amounts. Further, the vegetation was quickly growing and whatever part was eaten by the animals was quickly replaced.

(j) He came to the conclusion that there is actually no direct relation between the number of animals, and the quantity of vegetation in an area, as had been believed earlier.

 (k) (i) impenetrable/luxuriant           (ii) sterile

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