de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2004). Book Review: Mammals in Sri Lanka. Serendipity. October 2004. Page 8.
October 2004
Pictorial Pocket Guide 3 – Mammals in Sri Lanka by Sarath Kotagama. 2004. Published by the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL). 80 pages. ISBN 955 – 8576-14-X
The name Sarath Kotagama needs no introduction to wildlife enthusiasts in Sri Lanka . It is hard to think of a Sri Lankan who has done as much as he has, to popularise wildlife in Sri Lanka . This is particularly true of birds as his was the first field guide written in the language of the majority, Sinhalese. Through the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) he has tirelessly campaigned to take bird watching, once the preserve of an elite, to a wider denomination of the public. As an astute conservationist he had understood a long time ago that for effective conservation you need to widen the lobby. To create a lobby, you need to create an interest in the wider public by arming them with the knowledge to identify the wildlife around them to species level.
His latest publication, titled in full, “Pictorial Pocket Guide – 3 Mammals of Sri Lanka” continues his campaign to educate and inform the public. As is typical of much of his work through FOGSL, it comes at an affordable price. At Rs 200, it is affordable to a significant proportion of Sri Lankans.
The book is literally pocket sized measuring 16 cm tall and 8 cm wide. It has an attractive colour cover showing a tusked elephant photographed by Rahula Perera . The book is 80 pages long with the first 20 taken by introductory sections including a very useful overview of the mammalian fauna of Sri Lanka and their distribution in the various climatic zones. Here we learn that no less than fourteen species of mammals are endemic to Sri Lanka . Of these nine species are confined to the wet zone of the country, highlighting the importance of conserving what remains of this zone in Sri Lanka . The endemics are what are termed ‘small mammals’ and the only one which is familiar to the casual observer would be the familiar Toque Monkey.
A very useful feature of the book is the coining of a binomial nomenclature in Sinhala. This is essential if the study of mammals is to be popularized amongst the majority. The meat of the book is 23 colour plates of hand drawn illustrations with brief commentaries on the opposite pages. To achieve its objective of being an affordable pocket guide, the text has been kept necessarily brief and include the English, Latin and Sinhala names, key measurements and a brief description of key identifying features. The Sinhala name is in the local alphabet and therefore the book will be somewhat useful even to an audience which only reads Sinhala. However, I suspect a Sinhala edition is in the pipeline. The scientific nomenclature has been brought up to date and I was pleased to note that it reflected taxonomic changes such as the split creating two distinct species of Loris in Sri Lanka . The establishment of a Grey Slender Loris (in the dry zone) and a Red Slender Loris (in the wet zone) gives nocturnal mammal watchers and primate enthusiasts even more to look for.
In an un-biased review it is inevitable that the plates will draw some criticism. I suspect in the field it would be hard to separate some of the species of bats based on the illustrations alone. Some of the species look like a crude rendition of the animal in the world. But such criticisms miss the point and do not severely impair the usefulness of this guide. As a useful and significant first step, it really does not matter if the Sloth Bear and the Elephant could have been illustrated better. The plates serve the purpose of allowing a name to be put on the many mammals one is likely to see without any pretence of being the work of an accomplished wildlife artist. Not all the species are illustrated, but this is once again not a serious detraction as all of the commoner species have been illustrated.
The end sections begin with a checklist of the terrestrial mammals of Sri Lanka , numbering 102 species. Those illustrated in the guide are in shaded check boxes. A short but relevant bibliography is followed by an index. The acid test for a pocket guide of this sort is whether one would take it into the field. My copy will always be in my vehicle.
The writer is the CEO of a Wildlife & Luxury Travel Company. To receive his free, monthly wildlife e-Newsletter, e-mail him at with “Subscribe Wildlife News” in the message header.