Working for birds in Africa

Sur les traces du roi des marais (On the trail of the king of the wetlands)

Fri, 12/21/2012 - 11:15 -- abc_admin
Geneviève Renson, 2008. Paris: Kubik Editions. 159 pp, full colour throughout. Hardback. ISBN-13: 978–2350830513. UK£45.
page 255

This French-language book is an unusual and beautifully produced combination of wonderful photos and descriptions of the wetland environments where Shoebills Balaeniceps rex occur, focusing on two areas, including Bangweulu in Zambia. The descriptions of the local way of life and the often harsh realities for the author in spending 33 months over a seven-year period acquainting herself with the species, occupy a very large proportion of this large-format work. It is rather more than a coffee-table book, which after >100 pages describing the areas, threats and other issues, goes on to précis the species' feeding, courtship and breeding habits. For anyone with an interest in natural history or in visiting the wetland areas concerned, this may well inspire interest in the species and its biome—and the book contains some engaging stories of rescuing birds and the differing perceptions of local people to the author's dedication to study the species.

Considering the Shoebill's near legendary status among naturalists, it seems surprising that there has not been a book or more scientific papers dedicated to the species before now, although the practical difficulties make this gap rather more understandable. The descriptions of behaviour are certainly fascinating, if somewhat anecdotal in style. Whether systematic data were also collected by the author and will be published elsewhere is unclear, but it seems unlikely. Very few publications are cited, and I was left somewhat concerned that more systematic information quantifying the threats may well be urgently needed.

But that is not what this book sets out to do—it portrays the extraordinary environment and character of Shoebills, highlighting the worrying declines, and I strongly suspect it will successfully generate interest and support for conserving these seriously threatened wetlands. The price is definitely quite reasonable for such a high quality production, but to learn about the species and its threats as much or more information is probably available on the BirdLife International website or within Red Data book accounts. The book has received various awards and acclaim, and for those interested in either the habitat or this amazing species, it is a book you will want to own!

Chris Bowden

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