Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Hollow horned ruminants

This is some kind of bovid extravaganza, in more ways than one. Bovidae is an ungulate family which includes antelopes, gazelles, cattle, buffaloes, sheep and goats. I'm not sure what a person studying bovids is called, though. Bovidologist?

In 2011, Colin Groves and Peter Grubb shocked this little community out of its complacency by publishing “Ungulate taxonomy”, arguing that there are 279 bovid species rather than the 140-odd species recognized ditherto. Despite protests from more conservative members, this bovid revolution has gathered steam by capturing “The Handbook of the Mammals of the World” (HMW) and now, it would seem, the field guide market. I have no idea whether the Phylogenetic Species Concept used to promote many subspecies into full species really makes sense (except for conservationists who can go to the UN and demand more money for their wards), but at least it makes the handbooks larger, more spectacular and, I suppose, more expensive.

As you might guess, José R Castelló's “Bovids of the World” is based on the 279-species scheme, and he has invited co-conspirators Colin Groves (who started the phylogenetic stampede) and Brent Huffman (a HMW contributor) to write extremely appreciative introductions. Huffman's sounds like it has been written by a born-again evangelist! Castelló has also been seconded by wildlife photographers, meaning that most “illustrations” in this volume are really photos taken in situ.

Every species presentation contains sections on subspecies, similar species, reproduction, behavior, distribution, habitat, status and (surprise) photo credits. It also contains vernacular names of the bovid in question. Thus, we learn that the Black-faced Impala is called “Swartneusrooibok” in Afrikaans, “Impala enobuso obunyama” in Zulu and “Phala ya sefahlego se seso” in Sepedi. (I admit that my Sepedi is a bit rusty.) The color plates also show the relevant bovid's size in relation to man. I was surprised to learn that some Bovidae are the size of small dogs! The price (25 dollars, or should we say bucks) is surprisingly low for a volume this size and quality.

Personally, I rather stay clear of other mammals than humans, but if you absolutely must know whether whatever rammed you was a phylogenetically sound impala or just a feral cow, “Bovids of the World” might be what you have always been looking for!

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