The Behavior Guide to African Mammals – Review

The Behavior Guide to African Mammals: Including Hoofed Mammals, Carnivores, PrimatesPoachingFacts rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Behavior Guide to African Mammals by Richard D. Estes is an incredibly in-depth source covering 91 common mammals. Encyclopedic in its depth and format, The Behavior Guide remains accessible enough for veteran wildlife watchers and contains enough content and detail to provide a solid foundation for students of zoology and wildlife behavior. The plurality of mundane hoofed mammals is also balanced with information on predators — some not so commonly seen, like the black-footed cat — and primates so that no major species are left out. Those seeking broad, picture-filled, basic guides should consider the National Audubon Society Field Guide to African Wildlife and pocket guides instead (listed at the end of this review).

The layout closely follows that of the The Safari Companion, by the same author, but in-depth information in The Behavior Guide goes beyond what is found in The Safari Companion by adding more to every facet of behavior and activity. Provided are descriptions of physical characteristics, distribution, ecology, and common activities, along with explanations of reproduction and hunting habits, social organization, and social behaviors including communication, courtship, and playing. Line-drawings and a few black-and-white illustrations provide insight into postures, markings, and a general idea of size, but are not as numerous as in The Safari Companion.

We strongly recommend The Safari Companion as a primer and companion book, or the sole choice for amateur wildlife watchers due to its ease of use and useful appendices. The Behavior Guide dispenses with some of the minor reading aides, making it a little more challenging to parse. Unit conversions to pounds or inches were omitted as well as the “at-a-glance” in male/female symbols in the text and social/mating system symbols. In a few cases the Behavior Guide sticks to using one particular name for a species (such as “Ratel“), when there are two or more in common usage (“Honey Badger” or “Ratel”). The Safari Companion provides all these options for convenience while The Behavior Guide may side with the most accurate term (the Honey Badger is badger-like, but not actually a badger).

The 605-page reference book carefully balances the depth of information with its own size, making it portable enough for wildlife watching enthusiasts to take this book along with them while on safari, but substantial enough for use as a desk reference. Still, The Safari Companion encompassing roughly 80 species, would be a better single-book option for those that don’t want to carry multiple references while in the field. The Safari Companion also has a more recent printing (and a Kindle Edition) with updated taxonomic information, while the most recent printing of The Behavior Guide to African Mammals may change little more than the cover image and the price tag.

We don’t feel that the lack of revisions since 1992 significantly impacts the accuracy of the information contained in any edition of The Behavior Guide, however there are minor inaccuracies relating to modern species distribution and taxonomic classification. These are inescapable due to the decline of many populations and the changes in habitat from weather, human encroachment, and other factors. Minor inaccuracies are also present in The Safari Companion.

Smaller safari guides such as The Kingdon Pocket Guide to African Mammals, Wildlife of East Africa (Princeton Pocket Guides), Wildlife of Southern Africa (Princeton Pocket Guides), as well as National Audubon Society Field Guide to African Wildlife would be good options for casual- and first-time safari tourists wanting to familiarize themselves with the basics of a broader set of animal species.

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