Nature and Environmental Book Reviews

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books



Lions and Tigers - The Wild Cats

The wild cats are fearsome predators. The largest – African lions and Bengal tigers – have been labeled “man-eaters” on occasion, and have suffered for it. Wild cats large and small are everywhere threatened: jaguars in Central America; snow leopards in the Himalayas; tigers in Bengal and lions in Africa; wildcats and panthers in the southeast U.S.; mountain lions in California.

These cats face dwindling habitats and the encroachment of humans with their pets and livestock. The animals they’ve preyed upon to make their living for generations are also dwindling. The wild cats must travel farther for food, and take greater risks to find it. In the case of interactions with humans the cats usually lose.

Yet these grand predators show the stunning results of millennia of evolutionary development in their graceful power, stunning speed and skillful hunting. We are drawn to them in fearful fascination. The conservation challenge is how to preserve enough habitat for these elegant hunters so they can survive. The recommended books in this section describe the social behavior and habits of these proud animals and offer wonderful nature photography of their vanishing reign.

Recommended Books and DVDs on Lions and Tigers - The Wild Cats

Cry of the KalahariCry of the Kalahari
Mark James Owens and Cordelia Dykes Owens

Cry of the Kalahari tells the story of Mark and Delia Owens, two American researchers who lived in the isolation of the Kalahari Desert, one of the most extreme wildernesses in the world. They were there to study the region's large carnivores, arriving with little more than one change of clothes each and some basic equipment. For seven years they lived in a remote camp near the path of an ancient riverbed in a place appropriately named Deception Valley. Their insights into the behavior and range lions, cheetahs, wildebeests and hyenas were invaluable to scientific discovery and led to lasting conservation efforts.
John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing 1985
1992, Mariner Books

Eye of the Leopard DVDEye of the Leopard (DVD)

Eye of the Leopard takes viewers on an enthralling journey deep into the rarely-seen lives of leopards. It is a journey of birth, life and death as a mother leopard and her first suriviving cub of six fight off marauding baboons and elude scavenging hyenas in a constant struggle for survival. Narrated by Oscar winner Jeremy Irons. 2007, National Geographic

The Last Tasmanian TigerThe Last Tasmanian Tiger: The History and Extinction of the Thylacine
Robert Paddle

An insightful examination of the history and extinction of one of Australia's most enduring folkloric beasts, the book argues that rural politicians, ineffective political action by scientists, and a deeper intellectual prejudice about the inferiority of marsupials actually resulted in the extinction of this once proud species. 2002, Cambridge University Press

Life in the Valley of DeathLife in the Valley of Death: The Fight to Save Tigers in a Land of Guns, Gold, and Greed
Alan Rabinowitz

The New York Times dubbed Alan Rabinowitz "the Indiana Jones of wildlife science." He has devoted - and risked - his life to protect endangered species. The lush Hukaung Valley of Myanmar is home to one of the largest tiger populations outside of India - a population threatened by rampant poaching and the recent encroachment of gold prospectors. In forests reviled as the valley of death, Rabinowitz finds new life for himself, for communities haunted by poverty and violence, and for the tigers he vowed to protect. 2007, Island Press

Monster of GodMonster of God: The Man-Eating Predator in the Jungles of History and the Mind
David Quammen

Quammen describes the fascinating past, tenuous present and bleak future of four supremely adapted predators who are finding themselves increasingly out of place in the modern world. The animals - Indian lions, Australian crocodiles, Russian brown bears and Siberian tigers - share more in common than alpha roles in their respective environments and dwindling prospects for maintaining them; they are, as the book pointedly notes, man-eaters, animals that can and do feed on human flesh. He examines them in their threatened enclaves in the wild and ponders what these killers have meant to us in our religion and art - from the pages of the Bible and Beowulf to Norse sagas and African poetry. Equally resonant are his arguments for why these particular animals excite such fear and fascination in us, and how we will suffer in terms practical and profound if they are eliminated completely from their habitats and confined to zoos and human memory. 2004, W. W. Norton & Company

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books

Predator: Life and Death in the African Bush
Mark Ross and David Reesor

Based on years of observation in the field the authors present a photo-heavy volume that takes a measured look at five African predators: leopards, cheetas, lions, hyenas, and crocodiles. Each section begins with a "day in the life" vignette, followed by detailed discussions of each species' ecology, including mating, birthing and rearing young, hunting patterns, family structures, and preferences for habitat and prey, using clear prose and striking photography. 2007, Harry N. Abrams

Relentless Enemies DVDRelentless Enemies (DVD)

The great lions of the Tsaro pride are larger and more fearsome than typical lions; with thick necks and heavy chests they are built to wade through water and hunt in places other big cats normally avoid. The viewer watches - up close and from the air - as this pride preys upon a large buffalo herd trapped on an island, who are forced to devise defensive tactics and eventually learn to fight back. 2007, National Geographic

In Search of the JaguarIn Search of the Jaguar (DVD)

Biologist Alan Rabinowitz battles time and adversity to save these endangered cats. Venture deep into the wilds of Brazil, Belize, and Panama with this dedicate wildlife advocate as he pursues these elusive predators, and fights to protect even more jaguar habitat than he already has. Narrated by Glenn Close. 2006, National Geographic

The Serengeti LionThe Serengeti Lion: A Study of Predator-Prey Relations
George B. Schaller

This classic wildlife field study was first published nearly 30 years ago, winning the National Book Award in 1973. Its information is still considered authoritative by many researchers, remaining in print all these years. Supplemented by charts, photos and drawings, the book describes almost every aspect of lion life, from social structure and behavior within the group to food habits, hunts and the impact of predation on prey population. A must read for any lion enthusiast. 1976, University of Chicago Press

The Snow Leopard
Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books

The Snow Leopard
Peter Matthiessen

First published in 1978, The Snow Leopard recounts writer Matthiessen's journey with zoologist George Schaller to the heart of the Himalayan region of Dolpo, "the last enclave of pure Tibetan culture on earth." They were in search of one of the world's most elusive big cats, the snow leopard of high Asia, a creature so rarely spotted as to be nearly mythical. Guiding his readers through steep-walled canyons and over tall mountains, Matthiessen offers a narrative that is shot through with metaphor and mysticism as the arduous search for the snow leopard becomes a vehicle for his reflections on all manner of matters of life and death. Thus The Snow Leopard evolves from an exquisite book of natural history and travel into a grand, Buddhist-tinged parable of our search for meaning. After all their searching, they never found the snow leopard. At the end, Schaller muses, "We've seen so much, maybe its better if there's some things we don't see."
National Book Award 1979 and 1980
National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist 1978

2008, Penguin Classics

Tigers in the SnowTigers in the Snow
Peter Matthiessen

Working with the noted wildlife biologist and photographer Maurice Hornocker, Matthiessen recounts his travels into the Russian Far East and Manchuria in search of one of the rarest of the big cats, Panthera tigris altaica, the Siberian tiger. Once shielded by Communist policies that restricted travel in and development of its wilderness habitat, the Siberian tiger is increasingly threatened throughout much of its range as the dense old-growth forests of the Pacific seaboard fall to Japanese logging companies; at the same time, the tiger is still hunted for parts used by Chinese apothecaries. Matthiessen is able to report a few success stories, as Russian, Chinese, and American biologists work to conserve habitat in the wild country where these tigers make their home. 2001, North Point Press

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