Mammals of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East
Many European birders consider their main area of interest as the zoogeographical zone termed the Western Palearctic. The avifauna of the region has been well covered, but those of us keen on mammals have been somewhat hard done by. This is set to change now with the publication of this excellent new field guide.
Covering 403 species, and including all the more substantiated and recent taxonomic changes and discoveries, it is unlikely that you will need any other guide to the region’s mammals. The Western Palearctic is defined here as the area north of the tropic of Cancer and west of Svalbard and the Caspian Sea, but conservatively only includes part of the Arabian Peninsula.
Interesting introductory texts cover the geography of the region, feral species, taxonomy, biometrics, distribution maps and useful basic tips on observation. Two surprising omissions are Dugong and whales, but the authors provide a checklist and point the reader towards the standard identification guides for these marine animals.
The plates in the main species accounts are laid out in the manner now familiar from bird guides, with text and maps facing the illustrations. A small gripe is that the maps could have been labelled with the species’ English, rather than scientific, names. The text covers field and in-the-hand identification, habitat and biology, with notes on taxonomy and geographical variation.
The illustrations are life-like and ‘jizzy’, with the now standard sketches of skulls and tooth arrangements. These are particularly useful, as skulls are good clues to a species’ presence, and many species
can only be reliably distinguished by such means. In fact, most
of the cryptic bird species are comparatively simple to identify compared with the region’s small mammals! Missing, however, are drawings of droppings, footprints, nipple and footpad arrangements, and nest sites shown in the 1993 Macdonald and Barrett European guide, revisions of which may have been helpful.
Birders visiting the far extremities of the region will now be much more able to pin down the identity of the numerous non-European small mammal species found in North Africa, the Near East and Eastern Europe, rather than have their notebooks dotted with sightings of unknown species.
This book is truly the mammal equivalent of the Collins Bird Guide. All we need is a reptile and amphibian guide for the same region, and we'll have the tetrapods all covered!
• Mammals of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East by S Aulagnier, A J Mitchell-Jones, Francois Moutou, J Zima and Patrick Haffner (A&C Black, London, 2009).
• 272 pages, 104 colour plates featuring more than 600 figures, numerous distribution maps and line drawings.
• ISBN 9781408113998. Hbk, £24.99.
First published in Birdwatch 211:45 (January 2010)
Available from Birdwatch bookshop