Book Review: Phillipps’ Field Guide to the Mammals of Borneo and Their Ecology: Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei, and Kalimantan

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Phillipps’ Field Guide to the Mammals of Borneo and Their Ecology: Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei, and Kalimantan by Quentin Phillipps & Karen Phillipps
Review by Amar-Singh HSS (Dr.)
June 2016

“It is perhaps important to start this review with an introductory note. I am primarily a bird watcher from Malaysia, hence I know Malaysian birds better than mammals. But I have a love for all of nature. Mammals, though harder to watch than birds, also occupy my observations and bring much pleasure. I do image mammals and occasionally write an article on interesting mammal behaviour I observe. I also own a number of mammal guides for the region. This review needs to be read with these constraints in mind.

“I received the book before the review was requested, as I know the author and received a copy from him. I had also just returned from a work cum nature trip to north Borneo (Sabah) and was delighted to use it to better understand some of my observations of mammals while in that region.

“This field guide is laid out very much like the excellent ‘Phillipps’ Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo: Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei, and Kalimantan’, also by the same authors. The layout is excellent and very informative. The book begins with a long account of the climate, history, ecology, plant life in the region. This brings much depth to the reader, to understand the region and the impact of changes on wildlife. Conservation and appreciation of mammals is at the heart of the writers. All the species present in the region are covered in detail with wonderful illustrations by Karen Phillipps; mammals are often presented in a dynamic manner. While there are some photographs of mammals, the illustrations bring the book alive.

“The details provided on each mammal are comprehensive, informative and cover all 277 known land and marine mammals’ species in the region. For example, during my recent trip I had watched a number of monkey species and had always wondered why the Silvered Langur (Trachypithecus cristatus) or Silvered Leaf Monkey/Silvery Lutung had bight orange babies. Phillipps’ Field Guide to the Mammals of Borneo explains ‘Silvered Langur babies are bright orange for the first 3 months of their lives so they can be easily seen and protected from danger by the whole group‘. I had witnessed this personally with 5-6 adults caring for one infant.

Silvery Lutung-1c-Sepilok, Sandakan, Saban [AmarSingh]

“Above image shows a Silvered Langur adult female with orange infant while the image below is a close up of a young orange infant Silvered Langur

Silvery Lutung-2c-Sepilok, Sandakan, Saban [AmarSingh]

“One of the highlights of the Phillipps’ Field Guides, whether for birds or mammals, is the spectacular ‘extra bits’ that are inserted. As you read about a group of mammals the authors include wonderful facts as ‘side digressions’ on ecology, history, species behaviour, conservation, people, culture. This makes for very interesting reading and is a format style that will appeal to many, especially the younger generation. For example I had the good fortune to come across a Philippine Slow Loris (Nycticebus menagensis). This was my first encounter with a Slow Loris. This particular animal was hidden in some bushes and looked so cute but fortunately I did not touch it (below). On reading about it in the Phillipps’ Field Guide I learnt that the slow loris is one of the only poisonous mammals in the world. There is a side box that has an interesting discussion on why the slow loris is poisonous. The authors state ‘Both sexes of all loris species have a gland inside their elbow (brachial gland), which sweats a clear oil. Loris often lick the gland when under stress, then lick their young all over or rub the mixed saliva and oil over their heads… The oil in the gland contains venom that is activated when combined with saliva…. this venom can cause severe allergic shock in humans, occasionally resulting in death. The poison has developed as a defence against both predation and attacks from rival slow loris during territorial breeding fights.‘ It is information like this that makes the book such an interesting read and a valuable resource.

Philippine Slow Loris Nycticebus menagensis-1c-Sepilok, Sandakan, Saban {AmarSingh].jpg

“The book ends with a useful, lengthy, description of the locations where one can visit to watch mammals in Borneo with good maps; a valuable ‘extra’ in the book, especially to interested visitors.

“For visitors to Borneo, or residents, the ‘Phillipps’ Field Guide to the Mammals of Borneo and their Ecology’ would be an indispensable aid to support the identification and appreciation of mammals in the region. Its intelligent and comprehensive account raises the standard of identification guides. It is a guide to own just for the sheer value of the information presented and the beauty of the illustrations.”

About the reviewer:
Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS is a senior consultant paediatrician with the Ministry of Health Malaysia. He heads a regional paediatric department and a regional research centre. He has been watching birds for more than 40 years and has published 2 books on local birds. He has been a regular contributor to the ‘Bird Ecology Study Group’ and ‘Oriental Bird Images’ sites.

All images by Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS

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