Of Birds and Buffaloes, Alligators and White Ants, 1816


The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register for British India and its Dependencies carried in Vol. II (from June to December 1816) the following appealing text about animal life on Penang Island. The author was with a group who had hiked up Penang Hill and was staying at the Convalescence Bungalow. He took the occasion to note his impressions of animal life, which today provide us amusing reminders about the dangers of swimming along the coast and the beauty of Penang’s birds.
In 1816, the island’s population was estimated at 11,000 “Europeans settlers and their dependents, Malays, Sumatrans, Chinese &c.” and 1,000 “itinerants”.
(The Journal was published by the East India Company and printed in London.)

As soon as it gets dark on this mountain [Penang Hill], there arises on every side, a singular concert of birds and insects, which deprived us of sleep for the first night or two. Far above the rest, the trumpeter (a very curious animal about an inch in length), saluted our ears regularly for a few hours after sunset, with a sound so strong, that the first time I heard it, I actually thought a party of dragoons were approaching the bungalows, nor could I be persuaded for some time, that such a diminutive creature could possibly possess organs capable of emitting such a tremendous loud note.

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