Anyone with even a passing familiarity with the literature of African fauna knows East African Mammals - An Atlas of Evolution in Africa - a six-volume magnum opus by Jonathon Kingdon, a veritable tableau of excellence, eclipsing all previous attempts at coverage of this group of mammals (and arguably all attempts since). Upon publication it received this level of praise from no less an icon than Richard Dawkins, "...it is more magnum than any opus has any right to be."
With this background, however, one does have every right to expect a superlative field guide by the same author, and that expectation is satisfied in spades. The first edition was legendary, the second edition improves on legendary! Within the parameters of a standard field guide, designed to slip into a pocket or pouch, it covers all the mammals of Africa and updates taxonomy and adds new species since the original version in 2004. The illustrations, all done by the author, are designed as an aid to identification in the field, not as miniature artworks, and they admirably fit the bill in this important aspect.
There is a very useful section at the beginning of the book dealing with the African environment where the relationship between climate, elevation and vegetation are linked to the presence of species. Several excellent photographs and diagrams are included in this section.
This review is not the place to get into a discussion of the newly emerged concept of Afrotheria brought about by the science of molecular phylogeny, but a useful, succinct summary is provided, especially important for those unfamiliar with either the terminology or the concept of Afrothere radiation.
The bulk of the work follows the standard, user-friendly format of most modern field guides, and its very familiarity and ease of use are key to its efficaciousness. Animals are divided into their various orders and families, with pictures on the right hand page and diagnostic notes and range maps on the left. Some smaller groups are treated generically, as in the bats, for example, e.g. Tomb Bats, Taphozus, since the species in this group are impossible to tell apart in the field and for the average observer are seldom captured in the hand for more detailed examination. Where extensive morphological variations occur in well known species they are dealt with in detail, e.g. Giraffe, Giraffa (camelopardalis).
The book does what every good field guide should do. It gives you the tools to go out and observe creatures, and, by referring to the book, identify them. It is compact, user-friendly and accurate. And it will stimulate further study of Africa's fascinating and often unique fauna, and a concurrent desire to protect it. Who could ask for more?
The Kingdon Pocket Guide to African Mammals: Second Edition
Paperback - US$25.95 - 9780691203522 - 304 pages - 780 colour illustrations - 5in. x 7 1/2 in.
Publication date: 25 February 2020