An increasingly rare breed

In the age of Google, it sometimes seems that illustrated printed guides are an endangered species.

leopard book 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
leopard book 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
MAPA's Dictionary of Mammals (In Hebrew) By Avi Arbel MAPA Publishers 438 pages; NIS 169 In the age of Google, it sometimes seems that illustrated printed guides such as MAPA's Dictionary of Mammals are an endangered species. So used are we to just looking up something on the Web, that we occasionally forget the joy of sitting comfortably on the sofa, holding a beautiful book and flicking from page to page to reveal more treasures, recalling an era when arrows were used for hunting rather than scrolling. Zoologist Avi Arbel, a senior lecturer at the Kibbutz Seminar in Tel Aviv who has a rich background in publishing articles on nature and wildlife as well as being an experienced guide, has brought together his expertise, love of nature and way with words in one well-thought-out compendium. The "dictionary" contains a basic guide to the main features of the mammal world before an in-depth look at some 140 species found in Israel (and some from abroad). Arbel notes the increasing toll on local wildlife in general stemming from (human) population growth, intensive agriculture, industry, the growing road system and pollution, alongside "traditional" threats such as hunting. Increased awareness of the problems - leading to public pressure - is obviously one way of fighting back and saving species that are now on the endangered list. The book contains information on animal physiology, communication, senses and social patterns as well as habitat. Most entries are led by a chart of the basic details (distribution, life expectancy, social behavior, diet, vulnerability/conservation status, footprints where appropriate and even dental features). In a nice touch, Arbel has included several domestic animals to give a broader picture, and tips on their care - for example, in the entry for cavies (guinea pigs, Cavia porcellus - sharkan hazironi/kavia beitit/hazir-yam), a guide to pet owners suggests there should be at least two to a cage as they are sociable animals. The appendices include a dictionary of terms, giving also the English, as well as extensive bibliographies in both Hebrew and English. (My main criticism is that I found the index slightly off the mark in a couple of cases.) Everything is here from alef ad tav, as they say in Hebrew: from A to Z. The A in this case is the aardvark - a nocturnal, territorial creature, not a local species, whose existence is threatened not only by hunters but agricultural pressures which destroy the nests of termites and ants they rely on for food. The Z is Ziphius cavirostris: a seven-meter-long, 5.6-ton whale whose diet mainly consists of squid (the stomach of one female contained some 1,300). Although relatively rare in the Mediterranean, the bodies of these one-of-a-kind whales occasionally turn up on Israeli shores. Along with entries on beautiful creatures for whom environmental awareness came too late - such as the cheetah which died out locally at the beginning of the 20th century - there are those who just about stand a chance: There are still about 10 leopards left in the country. The main threats to them are man who shoots or runs over these majestic cats, and, the problem of infanticide as one dominant male kills the potential heirs of another. Some animals, such as the gray wolf, have managed to make a recovery since the 1970s while not yet being strong enough to leave the list of endangered species. My young son enjoyed the entries on bats (at risk from insecticides). A graphic artist friend was impressed with the layout of the book and I got a lot of pleasure from the wonderful photographs. Altogether MAPA's Dictionary of Mammals (part of a series) is a timely reminder of why animals need to be protected and why books should survive even the Internet era.