The Mammals of the Southern African Subregion: 3rd Edition
Revision by: J.D. Skinner & C.T. Chimimba
300 line drawings, 41 colour plates and 297 maps
Published by Cambridge University press, 2005
ISBN -13 978-0521844185
Probably as a consequence of their large size and often violent interactions with man, the mammals of the southern Africa have been well studied over the last 150 years. The first major synthesis of the biology of southern African mammals was undertaken by Austin Roberts and resulted in the publication in 1951 of The Mammals of South Africa. This volume was completely revised and updated by Reay Smithers, working under the auspices of the Mammal Research Institute at the University of Pretoria, and the first edition of The Mammals of the Southern Africa Subregion was published in 1984. Since then there have been substantial changes to the taxonomic framework which is used to group and understand the relationships between mammals species, and significant advances to our understanding of the biology of many of the species. To accommodate these advances, the second edition, revised in part by Reay Smithers and completed by John Skinner after the death of the original author, was published in 1990. This third edition represents a comprehensive synthesis of the taxonomy and biology of all 354 mammal species occurring naturally in Africa south of the Cunene and Zambezi Rivers, and the subregion’s coastal waters.
Important innovations in this revision include the use of a new taxonomic framework, new distribution maps and reference to some 1700 new references. Whilst the first two editions were based on classifications of Waldo Meester and his colleagues, this edition is built on the framework provided by Gary Bronner (Bronner et al., 2003). Further rigour is provided through the use of fourteen experts who have served as subeditors.
The text is focussed at a species level and there is little information for some of the higher and sometimes new taxonomic units. For example, the Order Whippomorpha, which includes the hippopotamuses, whales and dolphins, is a new construct, is not included in the second edition, and there is no discussion of this change. While it could be argued that this detail is beyond the scope of the book, the authors have missed an opportunity to inform their readers.
The Mammals of the Southern African Subregion will be bought by a cross section of readers. For bibliophiles interested in natural history, the third edition has a revised design and is an elegant and informative book. For the natural historian, the book represents the most accessible and most comprehensive synthesis of our understanding of all the mammals in southern Africa. It is not a field guide, nor an identification guide, but for the reader who would like to know a little more about a rat or bat, rare antelope or small carnivore, this is the source. For biologists it provides an invaluable reflection on the health of mammalogy in Southern Africa; of what has been achieved and what remains to be done. Of the 354 species, the vast majority are small and for most of these, our level of understanding is poor. The bats and rodents (161 species) represent 45% of all mammals; when the golden moles, shrews and elephant shrews are included, the number of species increases to 201 and about 57% of all mammal species in Southern Africa. A simple page count reveals about 280 pages for these 201 species as compared to the larger and more charismatic African elephant (nine pages) and lion (seven pages). The clear message is that while we know a great deal about a few of the large species of mammal, our understanding of the biology of bats, rodents, golden moles and insectivores is far less complete.
This edition of The Mammals of the Southern African Subregion will be a valuable edition to the library of universities, museums, academics, conservation authorities and game reserves.
Ric Bernard. June 2007.
Department of zoology & entomology,
Wildlife and Reserve Management Research Group
Bronner, G.N., Hoffmann, M., Taylor, P.J., Chimimba, C.T., Best, P.B., Mathee, C.A. & Robinson, T.J. (2003). A revised systematic checklist of the extant mammals of the southern African subregion. Durban Museum Novitates, 28: 56-106.