Posted by: Loren Coleman on April 28th, 2008
Life works in strange ways. So does death. Good things can come from appreciating the moments that issue from both.
Between the two events, I kept writing at a busy pace and conducted my “Pinkie” expedition to Florida. I also traveled to various locations to give cryptozoology talks, but I additionally wanted to take some quiet time for myself to visit animal parks and zoos.
I’ve always found such gems in the midst of human habitats to be mental and connective respites, allowing me to realign my zoological zen. This year already, I’ve taken side treks (while fulfilling other commitments) to tour the Central Park Zoo in New York City, and the Sanford Zoo and Gatorland in Florida. Most recently, I’ve visited the Stone Zoo outside of Boston and the Lupo Zoo in Ludlow, Massachusetts.
At the Lupo Zoo, my curiosity was aroused by one of the displays on the enclosure for the nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus). I knew this to be an antelope found on the Indian subcontinent, so I was taken aback somewhat by the distribution map shown. It clearly mapped the nilgai’s range in India, but also pointed out a widely dispersed “introduced” population in Texas, there since the 1970s. I understood some were on private ranch complexes down there, but what struck me was a shift in the paradigm for conceptualizing where they are living.
Of course, I thought to myself, that’s certainly another way to begin to think about such populations in North America. People have noted “introduced” birds for years, and English sparrows, starlings, and other birds are now in some field guides for this side of the ocean. In 1973, I did a massive survey of all the introduced and wild populations of primates in North America, highlighted by the rhesus monkeys of Silver Springs, Florida, but also keyed to various wild squirrel monkey groups in the United States and reports of feral baboons along the Trinity River in Texas. I presented that paper at the University of Illinois, but I’ve not seen any comprehensive effort to map these feral primates since then, as such.
The nilgai map incident, however, set me to slow down, find, and take the time to read an important book recently published: Elizabeth Cary Mungall’s Exotic Animal Field Guide.
Mungall’s field guide does what any cryptozoologist should congratulate in a field guide of exotics, she has systematically overviewed a group of large mammals, many of which are free-ranging in America.
Specifically tied to nonnative hoofed mammals, Mungall in her new book captures in one place a great analysis of where to find, what to look for, and what viewed behaviors to expect from the 230,000 or more large foreign hoofed mammals that live in the United States. These animals are native to other locations from Africa to Asia, but today can be found in Texas, Florida, New Mexico, Maryland, California, New Hampshire, Hawaii, and other states on ranches, in wildlife preserves, at zoo-linked safari parks, or “just behind high fences or on a mountainside along the byroads of America.”
The book is filled with wonderful photographs, and for photographers, it is a handbook on how to take and what equipment to use to get outstanding images of these animals. “Photography Basics for Exotics” by Christian Mungall is a 20-page-mini-book within this book, and instructive for anyone considering taking good photos of animals or cryptids.
I found Elizabeth Mungall’s discussion of the historical background in her chapter on “Where to See Exotics” very insightful on the “whens” and “whys” of some of these species, which were re-located to the Americas. Oftentimes hunting was behind it, but sometimes other reasons were there for those that have liked to have exotics on their land. Today, a strong underlying theme is the conservation movement, with endangered species being bred here and used to restock depleted native lands.
The field guide section that profiles the species breaks down along the lines of what deer, antelopes, sheep/goats, cattle, and other animals are to be found in the USA today. The guide features eighty different kinds of hoofed mammals, from the common ones, such as blackbuck antelope and fallow deer, through the more uncommon kinds, like the scimitar-horned oryx and a few newer arrivals like defassa waterbuck.
The sections are hardly boring, and for example the “Cattle” subsection includes the African Cape buffalo, banteng, gaur, water buffalo, and yak, which are roaming in America’s open spaces. The “Other Animals” subdivision details various kinds of camels, giraffes, rhinos, and zebras, as well as llama and wild boar.
Each individual description of the species includes the native range maps and information about food habits, habitat, temperament, breeding and birth seasons, as well as fencing needs (oriented to those interested in keeping these animals). I especially liked reading the paragraphs on “species compatibility.” For example, I would speculate there are only a few other field guides that you have read where you can find sentences like this one (p. 159): “Nigali bull will kill eland bull.”
Or, when discussing the sable antelope (p. 173): “Male my injure or kill maturing males and even sable female strangers, plus other species (like greater kudu and waterbuck), including humans.”
Or about the breeding of sitatunga (p. 175): “Hybrids with many spiral-horned antelope (lesser and greater kudu, bongo, nyala, bushbuck, and eland – eland sire lethal.)
The field guide is broadly useful to those wanting to observe these animals, those thinking about keeping them, or merely the casually interested natural history buff. For individuals who wish to get more deeply involved, there are a list of exotics-related organizations and a reference section of other sources and books at the end.
Although I know exotics exist in the Americas in a wide-variety of sites, my one wish, regarding the individualized descriptions, is that the profiles would have been enhanced by including suggested locations for the best concentrations of where that one specific type of animal could be found. Location information is under Mungall’s subsection to “Where to See Exotics,” but it is diffuse and incomplete as far as individual species. If such locale-specific data could have been tied at the end of each of the 80 species’ profile to a few recommended ranches, wildlife parks, or preserves each that would have been outstanding.
But this a minor point, which does not distract from an enjoyable and thoroughly useful field guide that should be carried by every traveler and observer to such sites throughout the USA. It is an invaluable key to identifying sometimes confusing lookalikes among the hoofed mammals.
Mungall’s book is highly recommended for cryptozoologists who wish to be aware of what large exotics you may have in your area, and for anyone that enjoys zoologically interesting large mammals. Being a collector, reader, and author of field guides, I say, this one is a must-have for everyone intrigued by large out-of-place exotics and cryptids in North America.
Wildlife biologist Elizabeth Cary Mungall is an adjunct professor at Texas Woman’s University, Denton, and a wildlife research consultant for the Exotic Wildlife Association. She lives in Houston and teaches classes at the Houston Zoo.
flexbound with flaps
5 3/4×8 1/2. 312 pp.
234 color photos.
82 maps. 2 b&w illus.
4 tables. Bib. Index.
First published: March 2007.