17 June 2017


"Animals of Kruger National Park" by Keith Barnes was published in 2016 by Princeton University Press. It's a 176 page paperback that runs $27.95. You can find it online here.
First, you might be asking why on earth I'm reviewing a book that deals with Kruger National Park. Fair question... I've not actually been to Kruger National Park. Ok, ok, I haven't even been to Africa. However, I DO look through a lot of books and so hey, why not? Besides, if/when I make it to South Africa, I want to be prepped and ready to go!

Another reason I wanted to review this book was because of Keith, the author. I had the pleasure of guiding him when he was visiting St. Paul Island in the Pribilofs of Alaska several years ago. Cool guy, nice bloke. And because I assume he's way too busy to be reading book reviews on my blog... I won't be too biased. (OR WILL I???)

Anyway, this book, as the title will probably clue you in to, covers a handpicked selection of animals that visitors might have a chance at seeing if they visit. Of course it doesn't cover ALL the animals that are present in the park, that collection of information would be quite a weighty tome indeed. No, this book is pretty compact and surprisingly slim:

Or maybe it's 500 pages and my hands are MASSIVE?  And no, I wasn't trying to pick its nose with my thumb.

Seriously though, the author does a good job from the get-go; he starts by covering some introduction materials like Contents (duh? I mean, every book has to have one, right?). It's in the table of contents that you see that the animals are categorized later in the book by mammals, reptiles, and then amphibians. Or, if you'd rather, flip to the back cover of the book and find an easy-to-use index:

The book starts out with explanations, usually 1-2 pages each, covering topics such as "The aim of this book" and "How to use this book". Next is the "Glossary of terms" where you can learn that the word "midden" means a pile of crap. The following categories are "Kruger's importance for biodiversity", "The seasons and timing of your visit", "Considerations for your visit", "The habitats", "Characteristic plants", and then a few maps.

Here's one of the maps that attempt to show the differences in habitats:

Seriously though, who can judge 6 different shades of green without direct comparison? While maps are fun to look at, I've always found this type of map key annoying. It might work if you have 4 habitats and 4 drastically different colors but.....

The author continues with intro material such as "How, where and when to watch animals in Kruger National Park" and "The ten best wildlife-watching routes". The latter section is pretty cool as it lists hotspots for particular animals.

Pretty soon we're on to the animals themse... oh, no, not quite... there is a section here with mammal tracks:

Pretty cool to have handy, right? He includes 8 full pages of tracks from everything from elephants to Chacma Baboons to Nyala, Steenbok, and Common Duiker. No, I didn't know what those animals were either.

The first animals covered in the book are the big cats. Here's an example of the first page of an account... this one covering the Cheetah:
So, you can see the common name, scientific name, a section covering size, weight, key ID features, habitat, habits, diet, etc. The rest of the text involved varies from mentions of population size, home ranges, reproduction, and so on. The species account may span 4 pages or so but much of it is photos. Yes, the photos in this book are probably the main thing that'll grab your attention.

For the lion species account, there is a page-filling photo of a male:
While attractive and fun to look at, I sometimes wonder the line between putting in a photo for purpose or to simply show your amazing photos? Anyway, either way, the photos are great.

I'll be honest, I hadn't even heard of a Caracal before but, lo and behold....
Again, you'll see the major topics covered as discussed before. This species was only given one page of coverage.

So now that you're getting the idea of what the book covers, I'll add in just a few more photos I snapped to give a few more examples. Zebra. Who doesn't love the zebra? Here's a side-by-side from that species account:

As before, you'll find some intro information about the species, some text about some additional natural history aspects, and plenty of nice photos.

Before long, you'll move on to the reptile section where you can learn about species like the Mozambique Spitting Cobra:
So overall, did I like the book? Well, I like to break things down first and so will attempt to here....


*  Slim, not too big, and probably pretty easy to carry in the field.
*  Concise information, especially the consistent stats at the start of each species account.
*  Nice photos.  I find that books heavy on attractive, full-page photos are often meant for beginners and those looking for basic information.


*  I love complete information and would be in favor of seeing ALL the species present there.  Yes, it would be a bigger book, perhaps MUCH bigger... but then it'd be complete.
*  Although this book was only meant to cover the KNP area, I'd personally like to see the range maps of these species on a broader scale.  For example, I honestly have no idea of the range of Plains Zebra outside of the park.
*  I'd rather see these species nicely illustrated instead of photographed.  After all, being a good illustrator takes lot more skill than being a good photographer (and thus I have more appreciation of illustrators). Sure, there is a time and place for photo guides... but I don't think that's now and here. For me, at least.

In the end, I did enjoy flipping through this book and I have no qualms in suggesting you pick up a copy for your trip to Kruger. If I venture to this part of Africa someday, I'm sure I'll be loaded with books for various birds, mammals, and other wildlife; will this particular book be part of my arsenal? Perhaps. We'll have to wait and see if there might be a more-complete, illustrated option that catches my eye.

I received a complementary copy from the publisher for review purposes,  but the viewpoint expressed in this article is entirely my own.