Book Review: Wildlife of Australia

posted in: Fauna, Reports, Travel-Personality | 1

Wildlife of Australia by Iain Campbell & Sam Woods. Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, 286 pp. ISBN 978-0-691—15353-7.

This is a delightful pocket guide that tourists will find useful when visiting Australia LINK and LINK. It covers all the animals that one will most likely encounter in popular tourist areas. Each species has a short description accompanied by a photograph to facilitate identification.

An introductory chapter provides basic information on the many and varied habitats found in the country. These include forests in their different forms like eucalypt, monsoon, palm and rainforest as well as woodlands, savannas, wetlands and deserts.

Being Australia, marsupials dominate the mammals. These are mammals that give birth to a helpless embryo that climbs from the mother’s birth canal to find refuge in her pouch. There it suckles and develop until it becomes fully grown. Marsupials are varied in forms that include terrestrial as well as arboreal kangaroos, wallabies, pademelons and the rat-like bandicoots. The iconic koalas (above right) and the carnivorous Tasmanian devil are similarly marsupials.

As to be expected, birds make up the largest group of fauna. Plentiful are the colourful but noisy parrots that congregate in flowering and fruiting trees. Emus and cassowaries make up the biggest while the colourful fairy-wrens with their prominent long and cocked tail are among the smaller species. The more fascinating birds are the bowerbirds where the males construct elaborate bowers to attract females. These bowers are made of sticks and decorated with colourful items like flowers, fruits, cicada shells, snail shells, stones and plastic objects like bottle caps and even coins LINK, LINK, LINK and LINK. Nests of these birds are built by the females some distance away, where they raise their young without the help of the males.

Amphibians and reptiles take up the final account of the fauna. Of the toads, the cane toad (Bufo marinus) is encountered everywhere as it is spreading fast all over the country. Brought in from Hawaii to control the cane beetle that plague the sugarcane crops, this large, warty and venomous amphibian is a major pest in the country. Of the reptiles, the most spectacular is the thorny devil (Moloch horridus) that can only be seen in the sandy desert regions of central Australia.

Australia has always been a popular destination for Singaporeans. Many are fascinated with its unique fauna, especially the marsupials. Birdlife is also unique. Having a copy of this pocket-sized guide would prove useful, even to tourists who are not avid naturalists. To birdwatchers seeking new destinations to enlarge his or her list of species seen, this guide would be a useful introduction to the Australian avifauna.

YC Wee
July 2013

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