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Four-legged and Winged World

Malavika Karlekar

Edited by Ashok S. Kothari  and Boman F. Chhapgar
Bombay Natural History Society , Mumbai and Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2012, pp. 216, Rs.1250.00

By Jim Corbett
Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2012, pp. xx + 142, Rs.225.00


Ably supported by the Marg Foundation and umpteen donors—who are fulsomely (and irritatingly) acknowledged on every page, Wildlife of the Himalayas and the Terai Region reflects the two editors’ involvement and commitment to classics, both textual and visual, of Indian fauna. While it is a pleasure to read precise descriptions couched in somewhat archaic English by S. H. Prater, Frank Finn, John Forbes Royle and others and marvel at the details in the paintings by Major E. Molyneux and those attributed to J. Gould—we are informed that they were actually painted by his wife and others—the book’s lack of any organizing principle and rigour is inexplicable. For instance, visually pleasing reproductions of birds are randomly scattered throughout the pages. There is no explanation of why the snow pigeon is chosen rather than the much more common green pigeon or indeed why birds such as sparrows, partridges and raptors—all common in the region—are left out. While the yellow beaked blue magpie appears early in the book, there is no logic to its relative, the Eurasian magpie, being tucked away in distant pages. Nor is it clear why the Contents introduces only two Latin family names—Canids and Felids (should be Canidae and Feildae) for the cat and wolf families respectively while all others are ‘Wild Cattle’ ‘Bears’ and so on. And if so, then why not Ursidae for the latter? However, one has to compliment Ashok S. Kothari and Boman F. Chhapgar for two things: the first and certainly primary debt that the contemporary reader—both informed and otherwise—owes to them is to their bringing alive once more selections from established works of interpretation and observation of wildlife in the chosen region.This is commendable indeed as not too many today have access to these books and illustrations. Second—and this has nothing to do with content—one cannot but comment on the editors’ capacity to fund raise in a money crunched economic climate. There could however have been better ways of displaying their gratitude: undoubtedly, a highend publication requires substantial investment, and sponsorship is crucial. But is it necessary to acknowledge a donor at the bottom of each visual? Thus we are told of grateful children memorializing their parents where we should see the name of the bird in question. Instead, such information is on the facing page, hardly where one’s eye ...

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