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

By Gathorne, Dato Sri | Borneo Research Bulletin, Annual 2017 | Go to article overview

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


Gathorne, Dato Sri, Borneo Research Bulletin


Phillipps, Quentin with illustrations by Karen Phillipps, 2016, Phillipps' Field Guide to the Mammals Of Borneo and their Ecology: Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei and Kalimantan. Text by Quentin Phillipps, illustrations by Karen Phillipps, with additional photographs by others, 8vo paperback, pp 1-400, profusely illustrated in color throughout. ISBN 9781-906780-92-0. Oxford, UK: John Beaufoy Publishing Ltd.

The brother and sister team of Quentin and Karen Phillipps, writer and artist, have produced another winner. Their lively and colorful guide to the birds of Borneo, published by John Beaufoy, has already achieved three editions. This team has now moved to a new subject, with this handy book on the mammals of Borneo (including the Natuna Islands) that ranges well beyond its modest title of field guide. Quentin Phillipps' wide reading has taken in many new publications since 1985, the original year of the benchmark Field guide by Payne and Francis (several times reprinted, but not revised). In 400 pages, the Phillipps' field guide gives Borneo-philes a thoroughly up-dated treatment of the variety, status and nomenclature of the diverse mammal fauna of this important biogeographic regions.

Over 30 years, combined research has raised the list of land mammal species from 221 (in 1985) to 247 (in 2015). There are also notes and illustrations of 30 marine mammals that have occurred in some big rivers, estuaries, and the surrounding seas. As defined by recent work, including the powerful tool of phylogenetic research, 63 species of the land mammals are considered to be endemic to the Borneo biogeographic area (including the Natuna langur of Bunguran Is), with the possibility that other cryptic endemic species may be revealed in due course.

In an Introduction, Quentin has stated his objective, that the book shall be "read and enjoyed (in parts) by a wide range of people with a variable knowledge base." For the enjoyment of people wanting to expand their knowledge base, the pages are interspersed with yellow text boxes, diverting the reader with incidental information, sidelines and anecdote. One of the first yellow boxes (p. 6) sets the style of the book, listing eight "Matters for debate" which could, less politely, be called "Rejected assumptions." This list is immediately followed by seven "speculative ideas," which the author hopes will stimulate further enquiry. The current revolution in taxonomy of the bats of the region is noted and, although this group already constitutes almost 40% of the total species list, expectations are that the number may ultimately be doubled. Readers are offered an email address to propose corrections or add new species, and a website (Borneomammals.com) for an up-to-date species list. A yellow box suggests places to see Borneo's top ten mammals. This, and the following list of 63 endemic mammals chiefly cite Sabah locations, thereby in part reflecting the background of both author and artist but also named are places with well organized access and reasonable likelihood of a successful viewing. It is sad that, so soon after this book was published, the Tabin reserve, Sabah, no longer offers a chance to encounter Sumatran rhino. Among the rarest endemics, known by single specimens, whoever succeeds in finding a Black shrew or Emmon's tree-rat will be the second person ever to see these mammals, dead or alive (p. 243)!

The body of the book is divided into three main sections. First, an introduction to Borneo in a regional context, the equatorial climate and vegetation, the prehistory of mammals and people, general ecology of mammals and some 30 pages on plant life and plant and mammal interactions, all vividly accompanied by lively colored illustrations from Karen's brush. Second, neatly led in via the feeding habits of fruit bats, the systematic section (pp. 84-325) follows the familiar arrangement of Payne and Francis (1985) rather than the current leading reference work (Wilson & Reeder, 2005, Mammal species of the world). …

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