(Towards) a Global Mammal Checklist

From time to time people express interest in having an “official” list of world mammal species from which to create a life list. Not only would this be helpful to anyone wanting to make a list, but it would ease comparisons among those who want to compare totals.

The trouble is there are competing references to draw from and none is perfect. Duff & Lawson’s list – which I base my own list on – is now more than 10 years old. The ongoing Handbook of the Mammals of the World series might have provided a gold standard reference but some of its taxonomic choices (with some serious splitting of ungulates for example) have been quite controversial on this blog and there is a bit of a backlash going on among more serious zoologists too.

After discussing the idea with a few people who read this blog – including Vladimir Dinets and Charles Foley – I think a useful step might be to use the IUCN Redlist of Mammals with appropriate modifications & caveats as a checklist. The IUCN list might not be perfect either for our purposes, with some choices driven by conservation priorities rather than mammal watching priorities (shame on them!), but it is arguably the least imperfect list out there. It also has the considerable advantages of being kept up to date (true some taxa are more up to date than others), being subject to broad scrutiny, and being well resourced.

A personal total… a comparable total
Of course a life list is a personal thing and what we do – or do not – include it shouldn’t really be of any great concern to anyone else. And I don’t think we will ever entirely agree on a list. Nor do we need to. Its not worth fighting about for the purposes of mammal watching. Lumpers and splitters please go about your lives in peace, while we agree to live and let live. I hope.

But – for the purposes of comparison – we could record our totals in two ways:

1) a personal total – that includes that Unicorn I saw when I was heading home from the bar last night and all 11 species of Klipsringer;
2) a standardised total based on the global checklist (sorry no Unicorn, just 1 Klipspringer). This latter total would simply allow for some greater comparison between lumpers and splitters.

But before we release a standardised checklist there are a number of changes we could consider making to the IUCN list to make it more mammalwatching friendly. The full list, downloaded from the IUCN site is here IUCN list

I compared my list to this one and found three groups of differences. These are all listed in the second worksheet discrepancies. I would be grateful for comments.

1. The IUCN list does not include domestic species that are living wild. My list does. I guess this might simply reflect that the IUCN list is all about conservation status (though it also includes Homo sapiens). I don’t see any reason to exclude feral horses, donkeys, water buffalo, cows and sheep etc, so propose we use these species as they appear in Duff & Lawson. What do you think?

2. Nor does the IUCN list include a few species that I believe are in the pipeline or acceptable. Most are recently described. Some – such as African Forest Elephant – are better established and may be excluded more for political/conservation reasons. Does anyone disagree with the species I have listed as “Species to be included”? As and when people wish to add species (such as these) to the master list I suggest they contact this blog and see what the reaction is. Meanwhile please get in touch with suggestions of other species to add.

3. There are a few species I had listed on my own list which the IUCN disagrees with. Much as it pains me to do it I would take these off of my life list – or at least off of the “standardised total” – after further research 🙁 Again, does anyone have views on this idea and the species listed?

If the idea is popular then I can maintain the global list, probably updating it every six months. And discussing proposals for additions or deletions from time to time. But if a proposal is controversial among the audience here then I suggest we stick with whatever the IUCN does in that particular instance. I don’t want to get into a fight about it.

Comments? Both on the general principles and the specifics of the list




  • mikehoit

    Good effort on putting something like this together, seems like an excellent idea. In the absence of a decent checklist for my life list, I found an old excel sheet online & am gradually updating it with taxonomic decisions – based, recently, on HMW (despite the controversy regarding it’s taxonomy, I figured at least it was consistent). So It’s not going be comprehensive for a few years!
    Based on my experiences of keeping a bird life list, I find it hard to ever be satisfied with one ‘authority’/checklist, essentially because I’m generally a dirty splitter who can’t reconcile some more conservative taxonomic decisions with what I see in the field. But when it comes to mammals I’m just not experienced enough to make my own decisions. So anything that sticks to one system sounds good to me and the IUCN one seems excellent. I suspect there will be those who have severe reservations regarding (for example) Lepilemurs though…
    From a personal point of view, I’d tend not to count feral domestic species, for no other reasons than it doesn’t feel quite right; probably this stems from my birding background where this doesn’t crop up; conversely, I have no qualms with counting feral species (e.g. Fallow Deer and Mouflon in Western Europe). Inconsistent I know. Again, as long as everyone’s more-or-less happy to stick to the guidelines it shouldn’t matter too much.
    Very interested to hear what others think.


    • Farnborough John

      Birding in the UK and elsewhere almost invariably involves feral species – although they are often from misguided introductions or mass escapes that have found the environment satisfactory: then there are the hitch-hikers like House Crow that have crossed half the world on ships to start new colonies (cf Brown Rat!)

      Mammal-watching in the UK we tend to include Feral Goats across the mountainous regions (e.g. Snowdonia and the Scottish Highlands) and our Wild Boar are from escapes/releases from farms. The goats are tough and shaggy and it would be a shame to lose them.

      One domestic that should be done away with is Ferret. Wild Polecats have been bred back into the domestic line (to maintain fierceness I believe) throughout history and there really is no difference except in phenotype – and that can be minor in polecat-ferrets. Its a nonsense.

      If we didn’t count long-introduced and established feral species we wouldn’t have much left: Rabbit, Brown Hare, Sika, Fallow, Chinese Water and Reeves’ Muntjac Deer; Brown and Black Rat, Eastern Grey Squirrel, Edible Dormouse, American Mink would all be off. So we do count them. We are now counting European Beaver which is doing very well in Tayside and possibly going to make a go of Devon (there is an official reintroduction pilot project but it has been rather overtaken by events!)

      In other words, counting ferals is OK by me, and while others might have doubts about wallabies on the Isle of Man or primitive sheep on St Kilda, that’s just tweaking round the edges of a basically acceptable practice.

      Duff and Lawson users tick what’s in the book. That includes H. sapiens, though there is some doubt about where they are not feral and what constitutes “in a wild state”: if you count domestics it doesn’t matter, just list your butler.

      Full marks for doing the work we can’t be bothered to do!

      • Jon Hall

        Many thanks Mike and John. These are good points. On the ferals then I agree with you and there’s a fine line between when a species is wild and feral. Dingos in Australia for instance. So I don’t think it makes sense to exclude them all and I tend to follow the birding consensus on this. Quite agree on polecats and ferrets too – they are the same species.

        However my query – on the IUCN list – was not so much on ticking feral vs wild animals, it was more than IUCN excludes completely a few species that are essentially domestic (eg cows and donkeys, dromedary camels) .I think they should be included onto the master list. They do exist as species and do live wild in places, whether we like it or not. I think Vladimir’s suggestions are good on this…

        On homo sapiens then I ticked them off only after the birth of my son. He was “wild” when he emerged, though was arguably domesticated a few seconds later. Though his younger sister, for one, would claim he still isn’t domesticated!

      • mikehoit

        Apologies if I wasn’t entirely clear regarding ferals – I meant that I happily count feral ‘wild’ species. I agree completely that given the movement of species around the globe and how long most have been established (as opposed to many birds) they’re generally countable. I hadn’t really considered the excellent points made by Jason below regarding feral domestics which are integral to many ecosystems and was mainly thinking of more ‘invasive’ cases;I can totally see the logic of ticking those where people see fit.

  • vdinets

    Is it just me or is the post missing a few links?

  • vdinets

    I’m pretty sure there’s more fixes and updates to be applied to IUCN list, but it will take a lot of time and effort. Perhaps we could do something like a wiki where people could make and discuss changes? I don’t know how difficult it would be to set it up and maintain.

    I haven’t seen Peromyscus bairdii proposed as a full species. Do you have a reference, by any chance?

    As for domestic species, I don’t think you can treat them all in the same way. Canis familiaris is, of course, sufficiently different from C. lupus to be listed separately, even though many breeds are clearly of recent hybrid origin. But for the domestic pig I’m not so sure. It has only one wild ancestor, and continues to hybridize with it in most of its range; many introduced populations are also boar x domestic pig hybrids. So perhaps it’s not worth listing separately? If you list it separately, you’d have to split a lot of other species in the same way (i. e. domestic rabbit, lab mice, etc.) and then it will be difficult to classify feral populations unless you know what the founding stock was.

    The good news are, there’s only something like 50 domesticated species. As a starting point, I can make a list with my suggestions on what is/isn’t countable and post it here so we can discuss it.

    • Jon Hall

      Thanks Vladimir. I simply used the domestic species that Duff & Lawson used… I don’t know what they based their decision on. But I take your point and a list from you would be great.

      Fiona thought that P. bairdii was going to be split…. Maybe she was just being nice to me so as not to disappoint me when I was trying to turn my photo into a Grasshopper Mouse!

      • vdinets

        It’s never been formally proposed, and it’s not the only distinctive race of deer mouse – there’s at least a dozen.

      • morganchurchill

        Dragoo has proposed a 4 way split of Peromyscus maniculatus, based on genetic evidence as well as sympatry in the east between the “Plains” and “Woodland” forms. Although in this case, Bairdi would actually be part of P. sonoriensis, which has priority, as many of the Rocky Mountain and Southwestern forms were not genetically distinct from Bairdi (not surprisingly)

      • Jon Hall

        Thanks Morgan – good to hear about the Dragoo split. The prarie form certainly looks pretty different to me

      • morganchurchill

        Dragoo et al. 2006. Phylogeography of the deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus) provides a predictive framework for
        research on hantaviruses. Journal of General Virology 87:1997-2003

      • vdinets

        Thanks! It’s a nice paper, but they used only one gene. I think it would be better to wait until other lines of evidence become available before determining how exactly to split it.

    • John Van Niel

      I am curious about your example of Canis lupus and C. familiaris. I thought the new standard was to call domestic digs C. lupus familiaris. Thank you in advance! John Van Niel

  • tembo10

    I agree with Mike, in that I’ve always been fairly skeptical about listing domestic animals, although introduced animals seem fair game, for the reasons others have described above. As for listing humans, the thought of doing a big mammal day and the first tick being my ugly mug looking back at me in the mirror is more than I can stomach. So I won’t be listing those, but that doesn’t mean others shouldn’t. After all, we’re doing this purely for our personal entertainment, and not as a competition.

    I think that using the IUCN as the base list is a sensible idea, particularly as the list is developed and reviewed by groups of scientists, rather than just one or two people, so egregious splitting ala HMW Ungulates edition is less likely to be approved. I think they tend to be updated every 5 years or so (they’re currently re-working the small carnivores section), which is probably fine for most of us. Most serious birders keep track of the location where the saw each species, and if and when a species is split they update it on their lists, which seems a sensible thing to do with mammals as well.


  • morganchurchill

    What are the major differences between IUCN and Mammal Species of the World 3rd edition? I have always used the former, although I suppose IUCN is probably updated with new species more often.

    If we were to create our checklist, it would be ideal to do so in a manner similar to TiF Taxonomy in Flux, run by John Boyd, who has created his own checklist of birds. Such a site would be insanely useful but also a lot of work.

    • morganchurchill

      sorry meant to say I use the latter:

      • Jon Hall

        I don’t know Morgan I am afraid. I have got a copy of the MSW but don’t use it very much. If you have an excel list then it is fairly easy to sort and match against the IUCN list though to get an idea of what isn’t the same.

        Ultimatelym as you say, it would be good to evolve towards something like TiF but also as you say its a lot of work. What I plan next is to revise the standard IUCN list on the basis of comments and my own judgement to create a base list, but note every revision to IUCN and why on the list. People can use that as a starting point and then revise further to their heart’s content.

      • vdinets

        Do you have the reference for Dragoo maniculatus split, by any chance? He co-authored a bunch of papers on this species, and I can’t figure out which one you are referring to.

  • Jon Hall

    Thanks Jason. I agree… Dromedary Camels are living truly wild in Australia and that species isn’t listed by IUCN so I don’t believe a species should be excluded on the grounds that it is only either domestic or living “feral”. But agree with Vladimir that if the species isn’t sufficiently different from a wild relative it doesn’t need to be included.

  • Jurek


    I downloaded Groves mammal list MSW3 some years ago and it performs very well. Useful is especially their index of geographical ranges, for in practice often the locality decides for a similar species.

    My rules of counting mammals are:
    – Trapped mammals count if seen on the trapping spot and/or upon release.
    – Introduced populations count if naturalized and put on the country list. Some very small and out of range populations don’t count eg. wallabies in England, zebras in USA.
    -Species which are naturally commensal and naturally use human food and spread by human means of transport, like mice and rats, count.
    – Animals in reintroduction programs, restocking, supplementing rare population, all kinds of game reserves, fenced reserves count only if all below is true:
    a) the form is native to the locality of origin
    b) population not unfenced or has near-natural population size and behavior,
    c) and individual seen is born in the wild on the spot (but may be of captive parents)
    – Domestic and feral forms don’t count, even if wild form no longer exists. No mufflon, heck cattle, feral camels, goats etc.
    – Humans don’t count as species. Here I may renegade – but everybody then just adds one species to their lists, what point?

    Some people would like to put feral animals living in their country on the list. I ask just to turn the question around and se if this makes sense. In most cases not. If you saw a small group of wallabies living wild in the UK, would you then not count wallabies seen in Australia, because one doesn’t count the same species twice? Not. Would you treat pariah dogs in India as a sufficently good sighting not to bother with seeing Wolf, which is the same species? Not. If you travel to Pantanal in Brazil, would you count feral hogs together with wild jaguars or pumas? Of course, not. Would you consider Konik ponies released on polders in Netherlands as the same as Przewalski horses in Mongolia? Of course, not.

    For me, two biggest problems in mammal watching are different:
    FIrst, whether to count every species of small rodents, shrews and microbats? This would turn watching mammals into checking traps. For just two families: Muridae and Soricidae have as much species as all ungulates, carnivores primates and cetaceans combined.
    Second: which populations in managed reserves count as wild. I accept that practically all large mammals in Europe were at some point translocated or reintroduced (there are hardly any truly aboriginal populations in Europe of things like Red Deer). But for many small reserves, populations with restocking etc I decided for three criteria I written above.

    This approach has additional advantage that it is the same as used for birds by birdwatchers and for other groups of organisms. Birders count introduced pheasants in UK, but nobody I know of counts escaped domestic ducks as Mallards, white geese as Greylag Geese, or domestic chicken which locally breed wild in Europe.


    • vdinets

      You can actually look for small mammals without trapping. All except a handful of completely subterranean species and canopy-roosting bats can be seen that way. I’ve seen pretty much all mainland species of North America without trapping by now (trapped a lot, too, but mostly to get a better look at them). And in many cases (lemmings, kangaroo rats, numerous arboreal species, cave-roosting bats, etc., etc.) trapping isn’t even the most efficient way.

  • Jurek

    Hi Vlad,
    Yes, ven if many species are recognizable without trapping, techniques to see micromammals and bats are very different from larger mammals, and they outnumber them like 80% to 20%. Also, the experience of seeing one species of mouse is much like another.

    In practice this would make watching mammals not very enjoyable.

    • vdinets

      Well, it’s much worse with birdwatching: almost all waders and passerines look pretty much the same, and the experience of seeing them is totally identical: you point your scope at a mudflat or your binoculars at a tree, and briefly see that little ball of grey feathers moving around. But I’m yet to see a birder who counts only birds larger than crows.

      Seeing different mouse species can be really different experience: one day you find an African pygmy that you can pick up and hand-feed, another day you have to climb into slot canyons to see rock mice, or spend your night watching the nest and waiting for a harvest mouse to emerge, or risk unimaginable pain looking for a cactus mouse in cholla groves, or slog through Louisiana swamps in search of cotton mice… I think it’s much more challenging, diverse and enterntaining than enduring Ngorongoro traffic jams to tick off yet another stupid antelope chewing cud 😉

  • Paul Carter

    Any chance of a numbering system, maybe at intervals of 10 so that new species / splits can be inserted where required.

  • Warren Gilson

    Still new to formal mammal watching and I’ve been using this time to ponder over my feelings about recording feral individuals of normally domestic species, and introduced species, on my life list, and have eventually come to a decision I feel comfortable with.

    I will include a feral individual or group living apparently successfully and independently (e.g goats in Australia) until such time as I can substitute my sighting with a more obviously ‘wild’ version. Ditto introduced species (e.g. grey squirrels in the UK) until i see them in their ‘original’ range. Since I make brief notes on the date, place, behavior of each sighting, I will replace that with the new circumstances when/if an opportunity allows.

    Oh, and no to humans, Just seems weird.

    Not recommending this for anyone else, just waving to all and laying out my scheme for my own personal use.

    PS I’m a little narked that llamas and alpacas are domestic. They sure seem exotic to me!

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