Note: This review pertains to the most recent Revised Edition (2006/2007) of the Field Guide to the Larger Mammals of Africa, but we will explain some of the changes between this and the first printing (1997).
The Field Guide to the Larger Mammals of Africa, by wife and husband team Tilde and Chris Stuart, might be the perfect balance of depth and breadth for amateur wildlife watchers seeking insight into the behavior, habitat, and daily life of more than 200 species. Its size bridges the gap between a large field guide and a pocket guide, making it portable enough for a day pack, but informative enough for nightly reading after a day’s safari. Over 400 medium and large color photos are organized on the right-hand pages to bring to life the species described on the left-hand pages.
Like other species-specific field guides each species or subfamily is given its own section. In the left margin of the left page a map of the distribution of the species and subspecies is provided. For some species a scaled-down illustration of front- and rear-footprints and their size (in millimeters) is also provided. For some antelope species, including the Greater Kudu, illustrations of horn development is provided in that margin making it possible to estimate the age of a sighted specimen.
Each species has its common name(s), scientific name, height and weights (both for males and females), identifying features, and related species. There is no page number provided for the related species, which might be helpful, but typically related species are on the next page or very close by. Like the Field Guide to Trees of Southern Africa by Braam van Wyk, the Field Guide to the Larger Mammals of Africa has helpful symbols presented in the information panel for each species which easily defines the conservation status, habitat type it can be found in (forest, woodland, desert, etc.) as well as activity periods (diurnal, nocturnal, or crepuscular). Information panels are also color-coded by family, for those that want to memorize the families contained in the Field Guide for easier reference in the field.
Although concise, the description, distribution, conservation status, habitat, behavior, and reproductive habits are all very informative and straightforward enough for first-time safari tourists or veteran safari-goers to read. The greatest strength of the Field Guide is the excellent color photos taking up the entire right-hand page. They highlight specific species and their visual characteristics with well-chosen photos that many other guides lack (although this comes at the cost of the book). Choice species also have accompanying photos of alternate color forms which provides a much more comprehensive foundation for wildlife watchers to base their identifications on. This is especially important for identifying species of mongoose (and their color forms), as well as species that are often confused at a distance like the cheetah and leopard. The Field Guide specifically provides a detailed photo-comparison between the spots of a cheetah and the rosettes of a leopard.
The Revised Edition features the following additions and corrections (among others):
- Corrected taxonomic classification of the hippopotamus, pigs and hogs, and many other species previously listed as “Order Artiodactyla.”
- Addition of “Skulls” (pages 302-309) featuring 102 full-color photos of the skulls of male and female specimens from a variety of species.
- The font chosen for the revised edition is now entirely sans-serif, which may have been chosen for readability. The font is also slightly larger than in the previous edition.
Aside from those small changes, the information contained within the Revised Edition of the Field Guide is largely unchanged from its predecessors. The new “Skulls” section will be the most helpful for novice trackers and self-guided safari tourists who want to be able to make quick, accurate observations of skulls that they might come across. Identification using the small photos should be relatively straight-forward and provide a great learning experience. Tourists on guided-safaris can use this field guide to double-check their game guide or ranger. Either edition also provides a useful “Suggested Further Reading” section as well as a helpful glossary of terms. Of interest to German- and French-speakers with a moderate level of English will be the relevant indexes in those languages, making looking up animals a little bit easier (unfortunately the rest of the book is entirely in English). It would also be nice to see species names in Afrikaans, for those that might go on safari with a game guide whose first language is Afrikaans.
We feel that the Field Guide to the Larger Mammals of Africa is one of the best field guides for mammals that money can buy. Although it is comparatively more expensive than some full-size field guides, it’s a much better value than true pocket guides like The Kingdon Pocket Guide to African Mammals and very nearly as portable. Used versions of any edition of the Field Guide provide the best bang for the buck and without really losing anything of consequence for the average amateur wildlife watcher (unless the section on skull identification is critical). Those seeking a deeper, perhaps esoteric understanding of wildlife behavior should consider The Safari Companion: A Guide to Watching African Mammals or The Behavior Guide to African Mammals by Richard D. Estes as companion books.