Stuarts’ Field Guide to South African Mammals, by wife and husband team Tilde and Chris Stuart, has received its 5th edition as of 2015. The latest publication provides expanded coverage compared to the 2007 edition so that it now includes wildlife found in Angola, Malawi, and Zambia which neatly rounds out the book’s coverage of the Southern Africa region.
The latest edition of Stuarts’ Field Guide remains an excellent field guide for the amateur and intermediate naturalists and safari tourists as well as adventurers delving into the African wilderness. Larger than comparable pocket guides, it remains portable and is available in paperback or e-book (including Kindle) formats for maximum convenience.
One of the best features of Stuarts’ Field Guide, and one which few if any other wildlife field guides have, is a comparison of species size to the human body. This works out much better than a clinical description of the average sizes in measurements that the reader may not be familiar with. Small creatures like mice and mongooses have a pictorial comparison to the human hand or arm while larger creatures like the lion are given a comparison to an adult male human. This perspective on size makes the rest of the information much more interesting and tangible for readers and is especially useful for adventurers trekking through the bush. Also included along with many of these size comparisons is information on the animal’s tracks and what to look for.
The field guide begins with an overview and description of the major ecological niches, such as semi-arid desert, savanna woodland, and other biomes that visitors will encounter when seeking out common and elusive wildlife. Minor habitat types are highlighted with images of cape fynbos and broadleaf evergreen forests. It then explains how to best make use of the field guide, how to identify mammals and what a land mammal is, and then explains what “conservation” and “wildlife management” are, how they’re related, and how they work.
An introduction to mammalian families is then provided in their own section and without illustrations. Following this section is the typical species-by-species format organized using common English names followed by their binomial names, making the information easily accessible to those looking to browse southern African wildlife species or page through to a specific species.
Most entries are accompanied by photos or highly-realistic illustrations for each species or common representatives of closely related species within the same family. The crux of the information lies in details about the species’ habitat, range and distribution, identifying characteristics, reproduction, behavior, and lifespan.
Stuarts’ Field Guide includes all the major fauna one would want to see as well as hedgehogs, various species of bats, a variety of primates, elusive pangolin species, hares and rabbits, pigs, foxes, dassies, and rodents. But Stuarts’ Field Guide doesn’t stop at terrestrial and arboreal mammals, it also includes information and photos on dozens of species and families of cetaceans including killer whales, right whales, sperm whales, and beaked whales. Dugongs, manatees, fur seals, and true seals also receive the attention they deserve as common tourist sights for those traveling to coastal regions.
Like other robust field guides of this type, Stuarts’ Field Guide contains a skull photo compendium at the end of the book. As not all animal encounters are with live animals, the skull photos and spoor images are great for identify animal tracks or remains encountered while on foot. Both print and e-book editions also include a functional glossary, list of further reading, and an index.
The only drawback to the e-book version of Stuarts’ Field Guide is that the Kindle version isn’t compatible with the more robust version of the “placeholders” feature which automatically sets a temporary bookmark on a page while allowing the reader to flip through many pages sequentially to find something else they were looking for and then effortlessly return to the original page they were on. The basic version of “placeholders” does function, just not in a suitable manner for this kind of book where a reader would want to jump back and forth among multiple pages. The publisher has been kind enough to include a Kindle-compatible table of contents which, when accessed through the main menu, allows the reader to jump to the beginning of a specific family of animals, but not a specific species. Other Kindle features like bookmarking, highlighting, sharing your progress, and note-taking do work.
Text and embedded color images look good and are readable on the Kindle version, however there is a notable lack of quality to the color images in order to keep the e-book lightweight on your device. Stuarts’ Field Guide would greatly benefit from hyperlinking and other in-line shortcuts to jump between sections of the book.
Field Guide to the Larger Mammals of Africa (1997, rev. 2006/2007) by Chris and Tilde Stuart, which PoachingFacts reviewed here, covers 200+ mammals across Africa and is surpassed by their latest offering, but can be found used for a low enough price that its outdated species classifications and distribution maps aren’t a hindrance to its utility for wildlife watching and trip-planning for Africa as a whole. As much of the other material, photographs, and skull comparisons (2006/2007 revised edition only), also appear in later editions of Stuart’s Field Guide to South African Mammals, it is worth buying this more specific field guide only for the most dedicated naturalists focused on safaris in Southern Africa. First-time buyers can jump straight into the book that will best suit their current and future journeys through the African wilderness.
Wildlife of Southern Africa (Princeton Pocket Guides) by Martin B. Withers is another possible alternative or even a companion book because it highlights a total of 400 species, including birds, reptiles, and butterflies. As the Pocket Guide must cover an even larger variety of species, but in less space than the Field Guide, it necessarily must be more brief and it lacks information on animal tracks and the skull photo compendium. That said, its coverage of basic snakes, many birds, and several species of butterflies is of value to those who want to be able to quickly access a few keys facts on animals they will or hope to see.