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The perfect jungle book; Review of the Photographic Field Guide - Wildlife of Central India

Easy to refer to, this photographic field guide will be a great companion on wildlife trips to cental India

books Updated: Apr 08, 2017 14:59 IST
Abhijit Kadle
Abhijit Kadle
Hindustan Times
Photographic Field Guide - Wildlife of Central India,David Raju & Surya Ramachandran,Tigers
A magnificent tiger in Kanha National Park.(Sudhir Mishra/HT PHOTO)

When many of us imagine what the ‘jungle’ is like, it’s the forests of central India that come to mind -- the famed woodlands where Kipling set his ‘Jungle Book’. The national parks, sanctuaries and wildlife reserves in central India are among the best protected in our country. Our iconic national animal – the tiger – is showing significant population improvements in these protected areas. This growth says much about the forests they inhabit. The tiger is the apex predator here, and its presence in numbers is a great indicator of the health of the forest. As with the tiger, the other wildlife in this region too has flourished.

Having visited many of the national parks and sanctuaries in centra India, I was keen to see how well the wildlife other than large mammals and birds are represented in the Photographic Field Guide to the Wildlife of Central India. I must say, I was not disappointed. A fairly slim volume printed on glossy paper, it covers a fair part of the wildlife one is likely to encounter in central India. Hashim Tyabji’s concise foreword sets a tone that reflects throughout the guide.

The introductory part of the book is quite interesting and provides great background information about the region that the book covers. The introduction describes the topography and rainfall in the region and the various vegetation zones. It also delves briefly into the observation and conservation of wildlife in central India. These sections are fascinating as they provide an insight into how the environment has affected the wildlife in the region. Incidentally, these fecund forests are facing significant environmental pressures that are a result of a burgeoning human population, large-scale industrialization, and increasing urbanization.

The guide is organized taxonomically into a section each for mammals, birds, butterflies, dragonflies, reptiles and amphibians. Each section is introduced nicely and provides the need-to-know information to use that section of the guide effectively. I especially liked the use of the identification key. Once you get used to the symbols, identifying habitat and lifestyle for mammals is a breeze. While the typical mammals from central India are well represented, it was good to see rodents and bats get adequate coverage; they make up for a lot of mammal numbers but are rarely noticed by wildlife enthusiasts. The guide provides locations that provide the ‘Best Viewing’ for the animals, which is helpful if you want to plan a trip around particular animals.

The section on birds is fairly standard. Based on what I’ve seen in the wild, I found that some of the images didn’t reproduce colour properly. Maybe this is because of the printing or because of the quality of the source images. Whatever the reason, it does detract somewhat from the contents. Perhaps I found it more of an aberration because a huge choice of high quality images of birds in this region are available. However, this doesn’t hinder it as a field guide. The consistent presentation makes the guide very usable in the field and the occasional inset breaks the monotony. Reptiles are similarly covered; and the images are of markedly better quality.

A tigress with her two-month old cubs at the Sanjay Tiger Reserve in Sidhi district in Madhya Pradesh. (Courtesy Sanjay Tiger Reserve Field Director)

For a wildlife enthusiast, it is not the mammals, birds, or reptiles in this book that’ll make for interesting reading or reference. It is the sections on amphibians, butterflies and dragonflies that truly makes this an invaluable field reference. These very interesting sections offer a glimpse into the vast biodiversity that the sample in the guide represents. While these are commonly seen, most enthusiasts rarely make an effort to identify insects. One reason for this was a lack of decent field guides for identification; the photographic guide addresses part of the issue by providing a great beginner’s reference resource for butterflies and dragonflies.

Read more: No fear of flying: A new pictorial field guide to the birds of the Indian subcontinent

Perhaps the one crucial element that such a guide should cover is insects other than butterflies and dragonflies -- like the beetles, bees and wasps, mantids, and other insect families that a visitor to central India may commonly see. The sheer variety of insects is an understandable challenge, but covering the common ones would have greatly enhanced the value of this guide. At the very end of the book there is a taxonomic checklist for the animals covered in the book.

Nice photographs, concise information and an easy-to-read layout make this a great guide to have. If you live in this part of India, it has the potential to be your everyday field guide -- the one you carry around.

As a visitor to central India, rather than lugging around multiple field guides, take this one along as a general reference alongside a specialized guide for your area of interest. Easy to refer to in the field, this photographic field guide would make a great companion on wildlife trips to the region and its fringe areas. Definitely a recommended addition to your books on wildlife.

Abhijit Kadle is an avid birdwatcher and collector of books. He presses buttons for a living.

First Published: Apr 07, 2017 20:07 IST