By Adam M. Roberts
An international scientific team in Madagascar, the large island off the southeastern coast of Africa, reportedly has uncovered three previously nameless mouse lemur species there. Thousands of miles away, near Tibet, a new camel species may have been discovered. Sadly, Madagascar's forests are dwindling rapidly, and illegal gold diggers and hunters are reportedly blowing up the camels with land mines for their meat.
In New Animal Discoveries, Dr. Ronald Orenstein, a zoologist and a lawyer, has compiled a number of similarly fascinating stories of new animal discoveries from across the globe, and the threats these species face. Jane Goodall writes in her Foreword to the book, "Ron Orenstein is devoting his life trying to save wild animals in their wild homes."
I have known Ron for almost a decade, working with him on wildlife conservation issues, and have had the good fortune to journey with him to some of the most incredible places on Earth, including Madagascar. When traveling with Ron, one need not bring along a wildlife guidebook for he is an encyclopedia of knowledge about the animals we see (or sometimes only hear!)—and with New Animal Discoveries, he shows how much he already knows about animals that have not only just been discovered, but some that have yet to be named.
As he points out, the book is not about finding "new" species, but discovering species that have long-since existed outside the knowledge of the western world. In many instances, indigenous peoples have lived among these animals for centuries. The book is written for children, most suitably around ten, but would be appropriate for younger readers too (especially with the vibrant, remarkable pictures). It should be of interest to anyone passionate about majestic wildlife and excited by the quest to uncover the buried treasures of the natural world. New Animal Discoveries opens with a world map highlighting the home of each species discussed in the book, presenting a useful visual geographical accompaniment. The following pages constitute a motivating primer for budding "cryptozoologists" (those who study "hidden" animals).
Ron takes us on a journey of discovery through South America, Africa, Australia, Asia and Europe. We are treated to a discussion of rare turtles, lonely birds, ground-dwelling tree-kangaroos, multi-sized barking deer, tiny tamarins and beaked whales. In the course of discovering and describing these creatures, entire animals may be captured, they may be photographed, they may be uncovered already dead, or their peculiar parts such as twisted horns may be found.
These species are often in danger. Gold miners invading Madagascar "are hunting the golden-crowned sifaka for food." Some people in Vietnam hunt forest animals and since "they need more and more land to grow their rice…they cut down the forest to get it." Foreign logging companies cut down trees for timber. Devious dealers collect exotic, rare animals to be sold for profit.
As Ron notes, the first step in protecting species is finding them, since "it is hard to protect something if you don't know it exists." With this book comes inspiration to conserve wildlife known and unknown and the habitats that provide them haven. Ron is right, "Discovery can make a difference!"
New Animal Discoveries
By Ronald Orenstein
64 pages, The Millbrook Press
Brookfield, Connecticut, $23.90