Working for birds in Africa

Mammals of Madagascar

Sat, 12/22/2012 - 00:06 -- abc_admin
Nick Garbutt. 1999. 320 pp, 57 colour and 12 black and white plates, numerous line drawings and distribution maps. Pica Press, The Banks, Nr Robertsbridge, East Sussex TN32 5JY. UK£30.
page 152

While serving as a showcase for the considerable photographic and artistic talents of its author, this book provides a fair overview of current knowledge on the mammals of Madagascar, with additional information on the island's biogeography, protected areas and their conservation.

The five indigenous mammalian orders occurring on Madagascar are treated in the species accounts (with subspecies treatment for the lemurs), which are subdivided into the following sections: measurements, description, distribution and behaviour. Where possible, (principally for the lemurs), sections on identification, habitat, population, threats and viewing are included. Distribution maps are presented for each species with delineation or separate maps to show the range of lemur subspecies. Attempts have been made to approximate species' actual ranges by combining distribution data with those available for forest cover.

Though the book is not a field guide, the identification sections and descriptions are sufficient for most species that can safely be distinguished in the field. In addition, the excellent colour photographs, which comprise the overwhelming majority of the plates, provide a useful reference. Difficult groups such as bats, small mammals and nocturnal lemurs present an identification challenge which is not fully met by this book, but it is not an identification manual.

The distribution sections and maps are reasonably good and the uncertainty concerning many species/ subspecies is ample illustration of the need for further work to be undertaken and/or published. However, uncertainty seems to have led to frequent speculation in the literature. Garbutt repeats references to a possible hybrid zone between Eulemur fulvus fulvus and E.f. albifrons which has persisted as a result of the fact that their range limits are unclear, thus may overlap and, if so, the two forms may hybridise. On this premise he goes on to state that 'conclusive identification in this zone is, therefore, difficult' and refers to animals observed in the Zahamena Nature Reserve as appearing to resemble the nominate race. While it is only prudent to counsel caution in such circumstances, no evidence of hybridisation is cited and animals resembling both forms have been observed in the Zahamena Nature Reserve. Local reports even suggest not only that both occur, but are separated (E.f.fulvus to the west and E.f. albifrons in the east) by a large river in the north-east corner of the reserve.

Whilst necessarily brief the behaviour sections are clear and present useful information such as activity patterns, group sizes, diet etc. Many species, particularly non-primates, are poorly known and thus detailed information is often not available.

Where included, the sections on habitat, population and threats are useful, and again highlight the need for further research. It is disturbing to find how little is known about the population status of many species/ subspecies and the threats facing them.

The sections on viewing are a very good idea, recommending localities for particular species and giving brief details of sites, the need for guides etc. A subsection under Conservation and Protected Areas lists Top Mammal watching Sites giving brief details of access, facilities etc.

A delicately executed and splendid collection of line drawings adds to the superb photographs, and quality reproduction, to make this a very attractive book. The text is well written, concise and more than adequate for the general visitor/ natural historian. For the more serious researcher, the Mammals of Madagascar represents the first synthesis of available literature on the subject and as such will prove extremely useful. However, one particularly useful feature, the bibliography, is not well designed. While numerous references have been utilised they are not cited in the text accounts and are grouped in the bibliography under subheadings organised along taxonomic lines. This is at best clumsy and at worst can make it difficult to identify particular references with certainty. Given that the book's first stated aim is to 'provide a thorough and up to date review of current knowledge relating to Madagascar's mammals, this arrangement seems particularly unsatisfactory. Both stated aims, the second being 'to provide a practical synopsis for visitors', would have benefited from some treatment of the marine mammals occurring in Malagasy waters. However these are minor complaints, and I would recommend this book to anyone with more than a passing interest in the island's mammals.

Tim Marlow

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