Although written for a British audience, Mammal Detective is a worthy read for naturalists and wildlife observers in North America as well.
In this short text (it’s only a 128 pages), readers learn about theory and practice of wildlife observation and sign reading. Strachan begins by discussing the skills and equipment needed to “see” and interpret animal behavior from their sign by using the model of human criminal investigations. Readers are taught how to observe wildlife secretively and to appreciate that not all animals are equally observable. Strachan provides full-page line drawings to show where sign will most likely be found in three different environments (woodlands, watercourses, and fields).
Part two addresses the clues animals leave. Here Strachan explains how to identify animals by tracks, droppings, shelter, and the remains of feedings. He uses an educational technique called “Identity Parades”, which are lists and figures of key elements of animal identification, to help readers properly identify wildlife they might see in the British Isles. I think this educational method would be quite useful for authors to use in discussing American wildlife or in taking notes on their own field observations.
Aside from the splendid line drawings and easy to understand writing, this text is full of little informational gems that make the book worth the price. For example, Strachan has chapters on identification of wildlife by eye shine, hair, skulls, and teeth. His simple, not simplistic, explanations provide readers with necessary background to understand more technical texts on hair, skull, and tooth identification. While academically trained biologists may be bored, educators and the uninitiated will be grateful for the pedagogical method employed by Strachan.
Nuisance wildlife control operators will find this text useful in helping them to broaden their awareness of animal sign. I only wish the book contained tips on writing down one’s observations. Nevertheless, if you want to expand your sensitivity to wildlife sign, consider this text. It has a useful index and suggestions for further reading, even though they focus on the wildlife of the Britain.
Stephen M. Vantassel is an expert in wildlife damage management. His latest book is Dominion over Wildlife? An Environmental-Theology of Human-Wildlife Relations (Wipf and Stock, 2009).