Sunday, 13 July 2014

Book review: Wildlife of the Caribbean by Herb Raffaele and Jim Wiley

Wildlife of the Caribbean

Herbert A. Raffaele & James W. Wiley
Princeton University Press | 2014
304 pp. | 12.8 x 29.3 cm | 600 colour illustrations. 1 map Paperback | £13.95 / $19.95 | ISBN: 9780691153827

The Caribbean is a popular destination for travellers and, as well as its signature beaches, it harbours a diverse and distinctive fauna and flora, with a large number of island endemics. Up until now there has been a lack of a field guide to enable the curious visitor to readily identify what he/she encounters. Sure enough, there are several slim photographic brochures covering different aspects of the natural world, and the wonderful old Riley field guide to butterflies, but the only really good modern resource is the comprehensive Birds of the West Indies (not to be confused with James Bond's pioneering book of the same name). Two of the authors of that guide, Herb Raffaele and Jim Wiley, have teamed up to fill the gap with this handy little pocket guide which aims to cover pretty much anything the casual visitor might encounter, from conspicuous plants to reef fish and seashells. The book is “intended to serve as a practical guide for local people and tourists alike” and the authors “presume its users have no particular experience or expertise with nature”.

The book is small and light enough to fit into a large pocket, pouch or handbag, so it can be taken almost anywhere. It is very well organised and carefully laid out, with text opposite or next to plates, so there is no need to flip back and forth to find a description. The book is split into two sections: terrestrial and marine. Chapters on terrestrial wildlife deal with plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, freshwater fish and invertebrates. The marine section covers whales and manatee, sea turtles, reef fish and marine invertebrates, including shells. So, whether in the mountains, on the beach, or snorkelling, this guide should be of service. The 451 commonest and most widespread species have been chosen, leaving out a large number of organisms that are rarely encountered. Most of the illustrations are paintings by several different artists, but plants and invertebrates are depicted with photographs. Given the track record of the authors, each with over 40 years' experience in the Caribbean, the user can be sure that the text is authoritative.

A 300+ page, full-colour guide written by experts, priced at £14 (and quite a lot cheaper on-line) is a real bargain. This handy guide will be welcomed by residents, casual holiday-makers and wildlife enthusiasts alike.


Bond, J. (1936) Birds of the West Indies. Academy of Natural Sciences: Philadelphia, PA. 456 pp.

Raffaele, H., Wiley, J., Garrido, O., Keith, A. & Raffaele, J. (1998) Birds of the West Indies. Princeton University Press: Princeton NJ. 511 pp.

Raffaele, H., Wiley, J., Garrido, O., Keith, A. & Raffaele, J. (2003) Birds of the West Indies. Princeton University Press: Princeton NJ. 216 pp.

Riley, N.D. (1975) Field guide to the butterflies of the West Indies. Collins: London. 224 pp.

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