PoachingFact’s rating: 4 of 5 stars
The National Audubon Society Field Guide to African Wildlife by Peter Alden is a great source of basic information covering the breadth of the African continent and it’s wildlife. It’s more than 980 pages are filled with information on over 850 species of birds, reptiles, and amphibians as well as mammals including primates, big cats, and antelopes. There are many descriptions useful for species identification, its vocalizations, habitat, nesting practices, and for many species there is a small map indicating its estimated range on the continent. Some descriptions also include information on related species and species that are commonly confused for one another, alleviating some of the challenges in identifying visually or audibly similar characteristics.
The Field Guide to African Wildlife also contains a “Biogeography of Africa” with a short description of the different climates and terrains found within the continent and surrounding islands. A lengthy section on “Countries and Reserves: Where to See Wildlife” details reasonably up-to-date places to visit and what kind of wildlife one can attempt to see and even includes information for Saint Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha (U.K.) in the South Atlantic as well as Réunion (France) in the Indian Ocean.
Over 550 color photos depict a large variety of the over 850 species covered in the Field Guide to African Wildlife and provide common coloration and sizes for the species. More popular species such as lions, elephants, zebras, gorillas, and baboons get more than one photo attributed to their species, some depicting different stages of growth or various behaviors. Also highlighted in the photos are scenic points of interest and examples of various climates including: mopane woodlands, a favorite of elephants; tropical lowland rain forests; scenic sand beaches of Seychelles; Victoria Falls on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, and the savannas of East Africa.
Like other field guides by the National Audubon Society, navigation of the Field Guide to African Wildlife is done by using the species index on pages 957-988. However the layout of the field guide, with all the color photos of wildlife and terrains located in the second quarter of the book, is very conducive to thumbing through and finding the picture of the species being sought after, then using the page numbers by each photo to find the page with detailed information. This is a very different system than many pocket field guides and reference guides which have the species information and its photos on the same page or across from one another; not everyone will appreciate the utility that this provides for wildlife watchers identifying these species for the first time. Advanced wildlife watchers and photographers might benefit more from a reference guide containing in-depth wildlife behavior and detailed social habits like what is contained in The Safari Companion: A Guide to Watching African Mammals. Amateurs seeking similar information in a different layout might consider one of the competing pocket guides mentioned below.
The numerous color photos of wildlife, either 3.25×3.5 inches or 2×3.5 inches in size, are the foundation of the guide’s utility. The combination of easily accessible information and easily referenced related photos makes the Field Guide to African Wildlife a great reference. If the descriptions of wildlife characteristics and wildlife behaviors were more detailed this might be the perfect field guide for aspiring naturalists and photo-safari tourists. At 7.8x4x1.5 inches this is very portable, much more so than the The Safari Companion: A Guide to Watching African Mammals which is twice the size, but spends much more time on wildlife behavior and detailed characteristics of regional and sub-species variants. However the Field Guide to African Wildlife is two or three times the size of competing guides aiming to be “pocket size,” including The Kingdon Pocket Guide to African Mammals and the Wildlife of Southern Africa which are both 272 pages. The Field Guide to African Wildlife easily offers the most bang for the buck, but a combination of pocket guides and larger references would likely be the best choice for avid wildlife watchers and especially birders who would not be completely satisfied with the avian species featured in any of the aforementioned reference books.