Important Bird Areas in Africa (Fishpool & Evans 2001) is one of the more useful publications of recent years. Using it as a basis, several countries have had their accounts updated and expanded (Demey 2005), and Pete Leonard's book is the latest in line.
The 38 introductory pages treat in depth such topics as the geography and biomes of Zambia, conservation infrastructure and issues, and the rationale for selection of Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in the country. The body of the book details 42 sites (an increase on the 31 presented by the same author in Fishpool & Evans 2001: 1005-1024), under the classic headings of site description, notable birds, other flora and fauna, and conservation issues. A very useful innovation (not featured in Fishpool & Evans 2001) is full information on access etc. for visitors. An appendix lists known presence or absence (though not status) of the 750 species on the Zambian List, from each of the 42 sites.
The IBAs selected cover some 14% of Zambia's total land surface, and 80% of this area receives legal protection (the national parks system in Zambia is representative of most habitat types). The avifauna of Zambia is relatively well known, and a commendable aspect of this study is the attempt to identify at least one site for all Zambian species (only five regular species are not covered, and each is only of marginal occurrence). Some 20 globally threatened species are known from Zambia, the country being of special importance for the conservation of, e.g., Slaty Egret Egretta vinaceigula, Wattled Crane Bugeranus carunculatus and Denham's Bustard Neotis denhami. Sites requiring special attention include the Kafue Flats (a wetland of international importance for congregatory birds, under pressure from hydrological, agricultural and other sources) and the forests of north-western Zambia (being rapidly cleared by subsistence farmers, and including no effective, legally protected area). Despite the fact that Zambia has suffered less from human pressure on the natural environment than many other countries in Africa, there are many matters of concern, clearly presented here.
The whole work is embellished with numerous clear and detailed coloured maps, tables and illustrations (of habitats, birds and a few large mammals). A small drawback is that the dark colour used in some tables makes the data difficult to read. The artwork is excellent, the line drawings by Pete Leonard himself being invariably first class, in a variety of artistic styles. Most of the bird photos used are excellent, a few unavoidably less so; it is good to see such regional endemics as Black-cheeked Lovebird Agapornis nigrigenis and Chaplin's Barbet Lybius chaplini.
The clear and attractive presentation of essential facts in this book makes it, to my mind, one of the most successful of these IBA updates. It is a handy size (17 x 27 cm), and its extremely reasonable price has been made possible by generous grants from the WildliZe Foundation and two Norwegian agencies. It should not only appeal to birders, who will appreciate it as a guide to where to find birds in this beautiful, largely unspoilt, country, but it should also impress Zambians, students and (one hopes) politicians and other decision makers alike.