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Nature's Strongholds: The World's Great Wildlife Reserves. Laura and William Riley. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2005. 672 pp., illus. $49.50 (ISBN 0691122199 cloth).

Laura and William Riley wrote Guide to the National Wildlife Refuges in 1979 and updated it in 1992 and 1993. Laura Riley's natural history photographs and writing have appeared in Natural History, National/International Wildlife, American Birds, Smithsonian, and many other magazines. Now the Rileys have provided us with another impressive volume, one of global scope, in Nature's Strongholds: The World's Great Wildlife Reserves.

Descriptions of about 600 sanctuaries in some 80 countries on every continent constitute the bulk of this hefty book. The authors' introduction provides historical background on the reserves, describes the challenges facing them, and supplies information on permits, immunizations, and other nitty-gritty matters of travel.

Reserves are grouped alphabetically by country and nested in nine large chapters: “Africa,” “Antarctica,” “Asia,” “Caribbean and Central America,” “Europe,” “North America,” “Offshore Islands,” “South America,” and “South Pacific Islands.” The entry for each country opens with a country map showing the locations of its preserves and a size scale. A second map places the country on its continent. Graphs of average monthly temperature and rainfall accompany a brief introduction to wild places in each country. Descriptions of specific sanctuaries follow: area encompassed by the preserve, charismatic and rare species, biome, times to visit, what to see, background, facilities, and contact information (telephone, fax, e-mail, and postal address).

In Africa's Côte d'Ivoire, dazzling Diana monkeys swing through the forest canopy of Tai National Park. In Malawi, which has parks that are among the finest-run in Africa, orchids flourish in Nyika National Park. Springs and water-holes dot the grasslands of Etosha National Park in Namibia, drawing enormous numbers of wildlife to this less-visited equivalent of the Serengeti. The Parc National de Ranomafana, Madagascar, is one of the best examples of ecotourism making a park work (Wright and Andriamihaja 2002). With wildlife riches from the rare red owl to the tomato frog, Madagascar is a world-class destination for conservation-oriented visitors.

Those hoping to observe Antarctica's fauna might do well to advance this ice-bound continent to the top of their travel list: the habitat for much wildlife is threatened, as Antarctic ice shelves hundreds of square miles in area are floating off to sea. What Antarctica and subantarctic islands lack in numbers of species, they make up for in sheer masses of penguins—millions of Adélie, chinstrap, emperor, gentoo, king, macaroni, and rockhopper species. Antarctica supports large populations of leopard, crabeater, and Weddell seals, along with petrels (named for St. Peter because petrels appear to walk on the water, as that man is said to have done). South Georgia Island, the goal of Shackleton's perilous voyage from Elephant Island, is home to southern fur seals, elephant seals, wandering albatrosses, and Antarctic prions. On Macquarie Island, the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service oversees the world's sole breeding colony of royal penguins.

The superb Web site of the Center for Russian Nature Conservation ( will inspire scientists to dig out their field gear. A festival in spring at Khingansky Zapovednik, one of more than 100 reserves in the Russian Federation, celebrates the mating dances of red-crowned cranes. Less familiar Asian destinations are also described: Jigme Dorji National Park (Bhutan) with its blue sheep, Mount Hkakabo-Razi (Myanmar) with its red pandas, the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary (Oman), and other refuges in Bangladesh, China, India, Korea, Laos, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Europe has a surprising number of lesser-known wildlife reserves. Shaggy musk ox graze in Dovrefjell National Park (Norway). A variety of eagles soar over Bulgaria's Rhodopes Mountains: imperial, golden, booted, short-toed, lesser spotted, and white-tailed species (the last is Poland's national symbol). Birdlife abounds in the Danube marshes and on Bulgaria's Black Sea coast. The Carpathian Mountains are a 1500-kilometer (km) (930-mile) corridor rich in biodiversity, curving through eastern Europe. Chamois, gray wolves, lynx, brown bears, and one-third of Europe's plant species lure visitors to Romania's Carpathian reserves. The Carpathian Large Carnivore Project conducts field studies of big predators in Romania. Farther north, on the vast Hungarian plains, up to 72,000 cranes and the largest birds that can take to the air—the great bustards—are found. Shorebirds probing mudflats in Hungary's Hortobagy National Park can be observed from 30 towers. Poland's Bialowieza National Park and the contiguous Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park in Belarus are prime habitat for European bison and more than 60 other mammals. These parks offer guided walks, bilingual booklets, foot and horseback trails, boat tours, natural history museums, guesthouses, and camping.

Caribbean reefs off Belize and Dominica are treasure troves of biodiversity. The misty Monte Verde Cloud Forest of Costa Rica protects resplendent quetzals, bellbirds, and the semiaquatic Baird's tapir. Southward, reserves of South America beckon. Vicuñas graze Bolivian, Peruvian, and Chilean highlands. Rheas race across Argentina's grassland. The Amazon is named for the mythical fierce female warriors, but visitors are more likely to spot blue morpho butterflies, blond-crested woodpeckers, ocelots, and giant river otters.

Canada has the oldest continuous national park service on the planet. Parks of the Canadian Rockies are best known: Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, and Yoho. Glacier-cut fjords indent the 138 islands of Gwaii Haanas National Park in British Columbia, guaranteeing undisturbed nest sites to rhinoceros auklets, tufted puffins, Cassin's auklets, and storm petrels. One of the last free-ranging herds of wood bison roams the remote Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories, where a flock of more than 400 spectacular whooping cranes nests in grass and sedge meadows. The same flock winters 4300 km (2600 miles) south in Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas.

Many endemic species have evolved on isolated offshore islands such as the 155 Seychelles Islands. The carrycot frog lugs tadpoles on its back, one of a dozen Seychelles species that amphibian aficionados seek. Aldabra atoll, one of the Seychelles, is a United Nations World Heritage site and the largest coral atoll in the world. Here the Aldabra lily is one of about 40 endemic plants. Flightless rails, rare Aldabra sacred ibises, and 150,000 Aldabra giant land tortoises, coco de mer palms, sea turtles, and fabulous reef fishes attract visitors to the Seychelles.

The flora and fauna of Southwest Pacific islands may be the most diverse in the world. Two distinct groups are physically separated by Wallace's line: oriental species inhabit the region from Bali (Indonesia) westward, while Australasian species live from Lombok eastward. Spectacular species include Indonesia's Queen Alexandra's birdwing butterflies, with a wingspan up to one foot wide, and the “flying” frogs and snakes of Gunung Leuser National Park (Sumatra). High walkways afford visitors a canopy perspective at Kinabalu Park on Sabah (Malaysia) and at Taman Negara National Park (peninsular Malaysia).

Laura Riley's photographs depict wildlife elegantly. In one image an African paradise flycatcher binds its delicate nest with spiderwebs; in another, a sambar deer feeds shoulder deep, a cattle egret hitchhiking on its spine. The writing style is colorful and crisp: for example, pangolins resemble “animated artichokes.” References are grouped for each continent and alphabetized by title, a handy arrangement. General references are tucked at the end of the bibliography. References to backpack guides are included for any reader desiring more detail about a sanctuary's geology, plants, animals, history, and recreation. One of the best is Gadd's Handbook of the Canadian Rockies (1995). The index and text use only vernacular names for wildlife, though many readers would find genus and species helpful. Glitches are few: the lack of park locations on a few Caribbean maps and a mention of salamanders as reptiles. Also, almiquis (the Cuban solenodon, Solenodon cubanus) are mistakenly described as the world's smallest mammals (they actually weigh about 1 kilogram). Current contenders for the smallest mammal, weighing in at about 2 grams, are Thailand's bumblebee bat, Craseonycteris thonglongyai, and the Etruscan shrew, Suncus etruscus (Brown 2001).

As the authors intend, this book describes particular sanctuaries with specific wildlife for scientists and similarly interested travelers. Examples of reserves with specialties include Koros-Maros National Park (Hungary), with 12 snail species; Ojcowski (Poland) and Gran Paradiso (Italy), with butterflies; the kelp forest of St. Kilda; twilight flights of swifts over the sapphire lagoons of St. Paul's Subterranean River National Park (Palawan, Philippines); and the southern beech–podocarp forest of Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Site (New Zealand).

The mission of reserves is to protect natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth by preserving the lands and water they need to survive. “The most significant bioregional gaps in protected area coverage (less than 2%) are in the tropical dry forests of Mexico, the mediterranean habitats of Chile, and the temperate grasslands of southern Africa,” according to Brooks and colleagues (2004). The Rileys' book has the potential to close such gaps in protection. It will inspire more people to visit reserves than the 40 million people who already do so each year. The authors recognize ecotourism as “potentially the most powerful single force for preservation of wild creatures and places”(p. 18). From aardwolf to zubr (European bison), this volume fills an information gap for scientists, environmental organizations, and anyone interested in the best wild places.

References cited


T. M. Brooks 2004. Coverage provided by the global protected-area system: Is it enough? BioScience 54:1081–1091. Google Scholar


A. Brown ed. 2001. Encyclopedia of Mammals. New York: Facts on File. Google Scholar


B. Gadd 1995. Handbook of the Canadian Rockies. 2nd ed. Jasper (Canada): Corax. Google Scholar


L. Riley and W. Riley . 1993. Guide to the National Wildlife Refuges. New York: Macmillan. Google Scholar


P. C. Wright and B. Andriamihaja . 2002. Making a rain forest work in Madagascar. Pages. 112–136. in Terborgh J, et al. Making Parks Work: Strategies for Preserving Tropical Nature. Washington (DC): Island Press. Google Scholar


An anhinga, photographed by Laura Riley

KARLENE SCHWARTZ "WILDLIFE WORLDWIDE," BioScience 55(7), 623-625, (1 July 2005).[0623:WW]2.0.CO;2
Published: 1 July 2005

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