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LIFE and LETTERS

CUBS MUST GROW. A Minor Tragedy in Nature. By Elisabeth George. FEW of the susceptible readers who saw the new lion cubs at South Perth Zoo could have resisted the re fection that growing up is one of Nature's mistakes. In the human kingdom there are compensations, because even the most charming baby may grow up to be an Epstein or an Einstein, and nobody knows how many exquisite Pavlovas are still in the cradle. It is not so with lions. We know from the first that years which take away the grace of in fancy bring no great distinction, and that the most promising of cubs can never be more than a man-eater or a circus turn. Nature has expended great ingenuity in giving animal youth. a touching beauty which has nothing whatever to do with useful ends. One might even imagine that that incomparable bel dame herself loiters in the nursery with ae&et amusement. The greater cats have their full share of this inconse quent delightfulness, and I can suggest no gift more profitable to a zoo than a tawny and furred Peter Pan that would never grow to adult lionhood. Our few glimpses of Nature's wild nursery, however insignificant, are ai ways memorable. On a sandy spit off Kangaroo Island, where gulls and shags nest undisturbed, I once had a sight of fledgling penguins. The nest was remarkably like a rabbit's burrow, in the gloom of which one could presently discern three pieces of grey velvet, with shining, startled eyes. It would have been a fascinating enough spec tacle in itself, even without the respect one has for the juvenile relatives of the great and uncanny Arctic penguins, so extremely suggestive of a flock of cour teous Freemasons. Fledglings have a reputation for lack of balance, and have even given their name to the least gracious section of the human young. It may be true of robins and tomtits, but it is certainly a libel on cygnets and swallows, not to speak of the border case of the young platypus. Npbody could have observed the river wildfowl within the last few weeks without reflecting on the strik ing superiority of the infant swans to their parents. Out of the water the adult swan is a feathered disillusionment. Nothing clumsier walks upon two legs, or treads more heavily upon the poetic legend. The stout, serviceable body contracts almost ludicrously with the snake-like neck and the bitter little eyes. For an adult swan is a prosaic, matter of fact bird, that has to keep its beak to the grindstone as closely as any human clerk with a large family to support. Its instincts are predatory, and it clearly longs to snatch the food from the mouths of picnicking children. How little it seems to have in common with those balls of fluff which float so inno cently and carelessly upon the wateri Swallows at all ages are what an old poet called so aptly "Jocund little fowles." The most mature of them keep some of that mysteriously chubby look which is also retained by grown up robins. Nevertheless, I find them at their best on the day when they first take flight from the nest. A country house would never seem quite home to me without some out house or verandah to which in season these tiny architects could repair. There is something bright and bene volent in the gaze which they bend from their mud dwelling upon our more earnest housekeeping. Then there is the day, always to be anticipated, when they first sit in a row on the clothes line--sleek, copper-coloured vests, gay, beady eyes, and a yellow line each in place of a beak. The very young in the animal world are without that cynicism which comes from experience of human dealings. Even the hare, whose wild heart will never beat calmly in captivity, will sub mit in infancy to being stroked and Detted without showing the least sign of fear. No glimpse of the wild young Is more appealing than these, the most certainly doomed of all earth's little creatures-so helpIpss, so defenceless, in their unhidden nest of grass.

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