Book Review: The Mammals Of Somaliland

The Mammals Of Somaliland by Ralph Evelyn Drake-Brockman

This is a book that will not meet the approval of those with a contemporary view of animals and how they should be dealt with. This book generally consists of short and sometimes entertaining notes about the mammal species known to the author in the area of Somaliland, then an imperial possession of the British Empire, and at present the unrecognized nation of Somaliland. This book and the approach of its author are certainly strange, in that they combine a strong interest in categorization of various animals, including a variety of bats and gazelles and shrews and other mammals as well as a large blind spot when it comes to how these animals are best to be understood. Throughout the book the author bases his understanding of animals on measurements and interpretations about pelts, and he openly admits that he lacks a great deal of personal understanding of these animals and how they live, and that sometimes the only information he has to go on are reports based on the reports of those who lived in the region. Also of interest to the contemporary reader is the way that he tends to dismiss creatures as being cowardly, sometimes in ways that appear to be very contradictory to the way that he reports their behavior. To give one example among many, he comments that the local jackal is a cowardly species but also comments on its ferociousness in attacking hyenas in order to drive them away (although he also calls hyenas cowardly and then comments on their attacks of children and the elderly and infirm, which is perhaps a bit cowardly).

This book as a whole is about 200 pages long or so and it can be divided into two parts. The first and largest part, about 175 pages long, consists of a lengthy discussion of various mammals that can be found in Somaliland according to the author’s discussion. These animals are organized into classes and ordered in a fashion that appears to be based on the author’s belief of their importance or greatness or some other sort of hierarchical basis, and so we begin with grivet monkeys, rock baboons, and the Somali lemur. After that we a variety of different big cats including the lion, leopard, pygmy leopard, serval, wild cat, lynx, and cheetah. This is followed by a discussion of the gent and various species of mongoose, as well as the aardwolf, a couple of species of hyena, jackals, foxes, and the Somali wild dog, the ratel, hartebeest, various species of deer and gazelle and related species, the hippo, the warthog, the Somali wild ass and zebra, the rhino, the dassie, the elephant, various gerbil species, as well as mice and rats, the jerboa, the porcupine, the pecinator, the Somali hare, various species of bat and shrew, two species of local hedgehogs, and the antbear. The second part of the book then consists of three appendices that discuss a list of Somali names for the various mammals discussed (i), hints on removing and preparing the skins of animals (ii), and the hunting rules and regulations of British Somaliland at the time (iii), as well as an index.

Taken as a whole, this book serves as an effort on the part of a British science writer of the early 1900’s to understand the fauna of Somaliland on British terms. At least some of the discussion in the book appears to indicate a belief in the lack of curiosity about the people of Somaliland in their own animals, including comments on the refusal of the people of the area to eat animals which would clearly not be considered halal, as well as comments that there appeared to the author to be no words for particular animal in the local Somaliland dialect, thus demonstrating a lack of recognition of a particular animal. Yet it must be admitted that although the author shows a great deal of interest in categorizing the animals of the region into their various taxonomies, he shows little interest in seeing them as animals which are worthy of kind treatment and concern, even those animals which, like the local variety of hedgehog, became very popular pets after the time of this book’s writing. For the author, the various animals are to be viewed as pests or threats, are the subject of glorious hunts where pelts are to be made and then measured and analyzed, are to be viewed with a harsh and sometimes unfair standard of morality as to their conduct, but are not considered to be of interest as beings in themselves with any degree of individuality.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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