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The Safari Companion: A Guide to Watching African Mammals Paperback – December 1, 1999
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Anyone who goes on safari will want to make room in his or her suitcase for this treasure. Estes, who is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institute as a research associate, spent over eight years doing fieldwork in Africa and over 17 years leading safaris. His admirable qualifications as an expert on the social ecology of African mammals are reflected in the text, which describes approximately 86 species of African mammals. Introductory chapters give practical advice on how to observe animals, including tips on using binoculars and photographic equipment. Other chapters are arranged by standard taxonomic classification. Estes first covers the characteristics of families and subfamilies and then goes into even more detail on the individual species, charting behaviors one can expect to see and the usual context or meaning. Icons illustrating the behaviors effectively take the reader to a description of the behavior being observed. Appended to the text are a brief suggested reading list, addresses of major wildlife organizations, a glossary of terms, and a thorough index. The only "fault" with this exceptionally well-written and researched book is its size. With a 6 9 trim and some 470 pages of text, this is a fairly large, hefty volume to pack on safari--but it is worth the extra effort, as nothing compares with it. Essential for any traveler to Africa, any student of animals or behavior, any zoo visitor, and any size public library.
About the Author
Richard D. Estes has led wildlife-viewing safaris in Africa for many years and is one of the world's foremost experts on the social ecology of African mammals. Dr. Estes is a Research Associate at the Smithsonian Institution Conservation and Research Center, an Associate at the Harvard Museums of Natural History, and a Trustee of The Rare Species Conservatory Foundation. He lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire.
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Cons: This didn't work as well as I thought it would on Kindle because the figures were small and it was a pain to magnify and try to move around. I bought it for Kindle because I wanted to save space in our safari packing.
The main reason I didn't end up using this book was that we found another that was so much more captivating and useful. In our pre-trip reading, we found Cythnia Moss' "Portraits in the Wild" (Portraits in the Wild: Animal Behavior in East Africa)based on her 20+ years experience (when the book was last revised) researching elephants and observing other wildlife in a Kenyan Park just across the border from the Serengeti. This book is so well written. It is an interesting and enjoyable read (my spouse and I both read it before we went and at times were trying to beat the other to the book on a weekend afternoon). But more importantly, to me, she shows a gift for describing how the research is acquired in the field and she tells why she has selected to highlight some researcher's work over others. She also describes for which species there is little research (and the challenges) and highlights the importance of studying behavior in the wild (versus zoos). Reading this book, you gain a deep appreciation for the wildlife included in the book. There are also strong themes and interesting data points for those interested in evolution, impact of environment on development of social behavior. I became so interested that I would tell my work colleagues about all the fascinating facts until they groaned "no more about elephants!" But then, they were forwarding me articles they found elsewhere and I think the books' content was somewhat infectious. I also read about elephant family histories on her website and watched a couple of PBS documentaries that feature her work with elephants (google: Echo PBS). Also since this book was published a while ago, you can get used hardback copies for ~$2 on Amazon marketplace.
It is, frankly, repetitious and more than a bit boring. But such is the price of information sometimes.
The illustrations, by Daniel Otte, are quite beautiful.
In some parts of the book, there is specific information about wildlife populations. For example, in the section on Spotted Hyenas, the author reports data from one female that was tracked with a radio collar in the Ngorongoro Crater, noting how starkly different the level of activity necessary to find food was compared to hyenas in Kalhari Gemsbock National Park, where food is harder to come by. This level of scientific detail nicely complements the comprehensive descriptions of each species life and environment.
I ended buying this after borrowing it from my local library. I also purchased a Princeton Pocket Guide to Wildlife of East Africa by Withers and Hosking full of colored photos - mostly because of its vast listing of birds that are not in the Safari Companion. The Princeton Guide also has photos of many reptiles. It is clear that I will learn the most from the Safari Companion, however.
A great book!
In my opinion, if you can only take one book other than your safari journal--take this one. If you can take two, include a good field guide (like Audubon).