Lions and tigers and bears. Oh my! Frightening to some, these mammals, as well as their many relatives, are among nature’s most interesting creatures. The order Carnivora is divided into 16 families, 13 of which are terrestrial. These 13 families consist of 245 living species, all of which are thoroughly documented in this book. Part of the Princeton Field Guide series, Carnivores of the World, is a comprehensive and up-to-date source of information (one species was “first formally described in late 2010 as this book was going to press”) that would be useful for anyone, professional or amateur, with an interest in the world’s carnivores.
The carnivores descend from small, civet- like animals that lived more than 60 million years ago. The varieties that exist today, distributed on all the continents, range in size from the least weasel (Mustela nivalis), with a body mass of about 275 g, to the 450–650 kg polar bear (Ursus maritimus). As the name implies, most are meat eaters, at least to some extent, the herbivorous giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) being a notable exception.
Many carnivores of the world are not familiar animals. Unusual or rare species, for example Pousargues’s mongoose (Dologale dybowskii) and the cacomistle (Bassariscus sumichrasti), would not likely be known to most people, even biology teachers. This book is a valuable source of information about them and many other unfamiliar creatures. But there is also detailed information on the more common carnivores – those in the cat, dog, bear, raccoon, weasel, and skunk families. The giant panda, “the most recognizable mammal on Earth,” is one of a handful of carnivores that get a full page of both text and pictures.
The pages are conveniently arranged with descriptions of the animals on the left and full color plates illustrating each species on the right. Each entry is structured in a consistent format, with the most common name being given first, followed by the scientific name. Occasionally, other common names are listed. Standard measurements (head–body length, tail length, shoulder height and weight) are presented, with differences between the sexes noted when they exist. Each narrative begins with a description of the animal’s appearance, giving details of colors and markings and explaining differences in populations located in different places.
Entries continue with comprehensive discussions in five areas. Distribution and Habitat notes the species locations around the globe, detailing one or more typical habitats of the species. Some carnivores exhibit limited distribution in narrow habitats, whereas others are ubiquitous and can thrive in many habitats. Feeding Ecology reveals interesting and sometimes surprising information about the diet of each animal, how it obtains food, seasonal variations in food intake, and whether feeding behavior is nocturnal, diurnal, crepuscular, or cathemeral. Social and Spatial Behaviour focuses on the variety of ways that species members interact with each other in social units. Carnivores may be solitary, found in pairs or larger groups, cooperate in packs, or exist in more complex social arrangements. Territorial behaviors are common, and some carnivores exhibit hierarchical behaviors. Spatially, there is a wide variety of ranges and densities, with some species exhibiting fluctuations. Reproduction and Demography discusses reproductive behavior, seasonality, mating and breeding patterns, gestation, birth, litter size, postnatal growth and development, parental care, mortality, and life span. Status and Threats describes the range of the species, its degree of endangerment, threats from predators (including legal and illegal hunting and trapping by humans), and conservation efforts. Each entry concludes with information on species inclusion on the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) list and IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List.
Illustrations portray each species in full color and in natural poses. Several plates have additional black-and-white drawings depicting particular behaviors, including food getting, defense, playing, scent marking, greeting, climbing, and care of offspring, as well as various group behaviors. Some also show different forms of the animals. The animals come alive through the breathtaking artwork, adding immeasurably to the high quality of the book.
The author has presented a thorough picture of each species in these narrative entries. In some areas, particularly food ecology and reproduction, information is occasionally incomplete because it is poorly known or understood. This is partly due to the difficulty in being able to observe some animals under natural conditions and the rarity of some species that haven’t been extensively studied.
Several other useful resources are also included in the book. Sections on skulls and footprints feature drawings corresponding to the arrangement of species as found in the color plates. Clear, distinct drawings display a side view of the skull shape and dentition of each species. Footprints are illustrated with drawings of front and back feet, including claws where applicable. Size ranges of skulls and footprints are also presented. A glossary, bibliography, and index complete the information found in this handy volume.
Whether its user is a scientist doing field research, a traveler studying wildlife in various lands, a biology teacher preparing a lesson, a student doing a project, or just a person interested in carnivores, this book is an outstanding resource. Going well beyond what most would expect in a field guide, it has a depth of information that one might expect to find only after examining numerous sources. Having it all in one concise, one-stop volume gives it a broad appeal.