The Encyclopedia of Animal Predators is a great addition to the bookshelf of any naturalist or outdoor person. It’s also quite handy as a reference for farmers and backyard poultry raisers who want to protect their animals. This book is quite comprehensive and covers predators from mammals to birds and reptiles. It has a little bit of something for everyone interested in wildlife. There are a few places where the book could use some improvement, which I write about below, but overall, it’s a pretty comprehensive book and well done for its scope.
The predators are broken down by family groups, so you have the canines, felines, weasels, birds of prey, corvids, large reptiles, and many species in between. Each section gives details of the live history of each species. The species featured are all found in North America. Some, of course, have a wider distribution than others. For example, wolves are uncommon in the lower 48 states, but coyotes are almost ubiquitous.
Beautiful photographs accompany the descriptions of the species. Plenty of sidebars discuss topics related to the main text. To use the wolf chapter as an example, here is what it contains. First, a summary of the species as a whole and some common characteristics shared by members of the wolf family. Then, each species has a section that details its life history. So, you get more detailed information on the red wolf, the gray wolf, the Mexican wolf, etc. There are silhouettes of the animals with size indictors to help you identify one if you spot one in the field. The chapters discuss aspects of wolf lives such as their range, habitat, behavior, what they eat, how and when they reproduce, legalities surrounding the species, and tips on hiking and recreating in their habitat. At the end of the section detailing the wolves, there is a section on dealing with encounters with this animal, how to handle depredations on domestic animals, advice for preventing depredations on livestock, and more. Sidebars provide more information, such as what to do if attacked, and providing information about the wolf/dog hybrids.
The last pages of each section show how to identify depredations caused by the species on livestock, poultry, pets, and the like. These pages have reddish borders so they stand out from the rest of the general text. Detailed in these sections are such things as: what domestic animals do they prey on, what time of day do attacks occur, what is the method of kill. Also included is a visual guide to the tracks and scats, as well as common gait, of the species.
This is where I have a minor complaint about the graphics used. As a professional tracker myself, I can speak to the accuracy of these illustrations and I find them lacking. I did not feel that any of the track illustrations in this book were accurate. As a tracker with over 35 years of experience, I could barely recognize many of them. The publishers need to obtain more accurate illustrations of the tracks. It’s a pet peeve of mine to open up a book that claims to show tracks and to find that the illustrations are worthless for identifying actual tracks in the field. Unfortunately, most books out on the market today, with the exception of those written by reputable trackers, have worthless illustrations that are only useful as space-fillers on the page. No one would actually be able to use them to identify an actual track found in the field. Unfortunately, this book falls into that category with regard to tracking information. I also found that the gait descriptions, while useful to a tracker who understands gaits and what track patterns those gaits produce on the ground, would be virtually useless to a reader who has little to no training in recognizing gaits. For example, the raccoon gait is shown as “waddling” when the track pattern pictured is an understep walk. Throughout the rest of the book, gaits are indicated with text descriptions only, which further decreases their usefulness to anyone untrained in gait recognition. I’d suggest removing those descriptions or adding diagrams to show what the text describes. I encourage the author and publisher to consult a tracker and get some better illustrations prior to this book going to press. (I am reading an advance reader copy.)
I can say one good thing about the track information provided, and that is that the measurements of the tracks used the minimum outline method of measurement. This is a method that provides a more accurate size estimate and I found it encouraging that the author included it in the book. Some of the track measurements next to the illustrations, however, were not accurate. It would be best to get the track sizes from a reputable source, such as any of Elbroch’s published books on the subject.
Pet peeve aside, the rest of the book seemed quite well done to me. Some other things I liked or thought were appropriate are listed here. The text does mention that domestic dogs are most often the predator responsible for depredations on small flocks of sheep. This has been confirmed by researchers and is accurate. Some books attempt to deflect the blame from dogs, but this book did not do that. Also, bears are indicated as a predator on livestock. In my experience, black bears do not often act in a predatory manner, but when they do, it is young animals they prey upon. Most adult livestock are not vulnerable to black bear attack, except under certain uncommon circumstances. On page 82, the text indicates that mountain lions cross roads and do not use them. In my experience living in a rural area, mountain lions will use dirt roads and will follow them for quite long distances. It’s simply the easiest method of travel in our forested area. However, if the text refers to paved roads, then I agree. A definition of the type of road would help clarify this point in the text.
Some terms need to be defined so that the reader is not left puzzling over them for many pages. For example, the abbreviation LGD is used on page 31, but the term is not defined. On page 39, livestock guardian dogs are mentioned and astute readers could figure it out. However, the definition of LGD is not provided until a sidebar on page 48. I’d encourage the publisher to add a star to the term, with a note at the bottom of the page referring the reader to the sidebar on page 48. It would lead to less confusion.
Range maps, as in most books, are not really a good guide to the species range. Many published range maps show, for example, that the fisher is in a wider range in northern California than it really is. This book does the same with the fisher. Fishers are not as widespread in northern California as is indicated by this map. On the plus side, in this book, the range map for gray wolf did show Oregon and northern California, which is good since there has been a recent wolf range expansion into this area. (The wolf known as OR-7 and offspring.)
There is an illustration on page 251 showing a sheep with a plastic collar. However, there is no text or explanation to show what the function of the collar is. One can assume it is to protect them from bites to the neck from predators. However, a note of explanation would be helpful on that diagram so the reader understands.
Those few objections aside, I did find the text to be very informative and written in language an average reader can understand. The sidebars provided insightful tips or information that supported the main text. For example, I had not previously heard of the “sparred” owl and it was interesting to learn since both species occur in my region.
The information on how to protect livestock, poultry and pets is very useful. The last chapters show some ideas for protective structures, fencing, electrified wire, etc. Tips for how to protect your domestic animals are provided throughout the book, but also in the ending chapters. The legalities of predator control are also addressed, which is important. We need to move beyond the old destructive days of “shoot, shovel, and shut up,” and this book encourages wildlife-friendly ways of dealing with conflicts, which I applaud. Wildlife-friendly and predator-friendly methods are the only methods that should ever be used these days. The book encourages cooperation and utilizing these methods, and that is a big positive point. There is plenty of information on non-lethal practices provided so a reader can do more in-depth research on what will work for them in their situation. Excellent diagrams show different types of fencing that can be used to exclude different predators. There are also designs for a variety of poultry coops or enclosures shown. Repellents of all sorts are described, such as the use of sound, lights, or flags. Livestock guardian animals, such as dogs, donkeys and llamas are described and their pros and cons discussed. All the information a livestock raiser needs to plan how to protect their animals is included here. There are even tips on how to protect cats, dogs, and beehives.
This is quite a comprehensive and detailed text. Illustrations, with the exception of the tracks, show the concepts presented and are useful to the reader. Most of the illustrations are in color, which makes for a pleasing page layout on the eyes. To sum up, I recommend this book to ranchers, animal lovers, those who raise backyard poultry, pet owners, or anyone who recreates in wild habitats. Not only do you get the information on the predators, but also how to interact and cooperatively coexist with them in their habitat.
I’d like to thank the publisher, author and NetGalley for providing an advance reader copy in exchange for my honest review.