Book review: Pictorial Pocket Guide to the Mammals of Sri Lanka

Pictorial Pocket Guide to the Mammals of Sri Lanka

A Review – Michael Johnson

In his recent review of “Mammals of South Asia” Jon wrote he was not aware of any field guide for mammals in Sri Lanka. This reminded me that I in fact purchased one during my visit to Sri Lanka and so decided I better write a review.

The “Pictorial Pocket Guide to the Mammals of Sri Lanka” by Sarath Kotagama and Sampath de A. Goonatilake, with illustrations by Gamini Ratnavira, is published by the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka. It has been published in several editions since 2004, I purchased the 2019 edition, which is the latest and which had been revised and expanded.

It is indeed a pocket publication, being a paperback only 19×11.5cm and 148 pages long. The main part of the book is of course the guide to the mammals themselves. It follows conventional field guide practice with three to six species to a page in what seems like a fairly normal systematic order. Each species is described in the normal manner, with an associated range map (Sri Lanka only). Of course, both the English and scientific names are provided as well as Sinhala and Tamil names in the indigenous scripts. That feature in itself would be a great assistance to mammal-watchers in communicating their desires to local guides. Text runs down the left-hand page while illustrations run down the right-hand side. All illustrations appear well proportioned with accurate features and colour.

The identification guide is only part of this book, though. Firstly, comes an introduction covering topography, climatic regions and endemic species amongst other things. Next is the guide itself prefaced by an explanation of how to read the maps and measurements used in the guide. This is followed by a key guide to the land mammals. This is laid out in the same way as the guide, with text on the left and diagnostic drawings on the right. This key guide would be a boon to bat and rat enthusiasts. Next up is a list of references followed by indexes to common and scientific names. Finally, there is a check list of mammals of Sri Lanka. This lists 130 species of which 98 are land mammals, including two introduced mammals. Earlier in the text there is also mention of two undescribed species. Running through the book are a number of paintings of animals in their natural habitats as well as several colour photos.

I purchased my copy for Rp 1200 (AU$8.90. US$6.50) at Barefoot, 704 Galle Rd., Colombo. Barefoot is a sort of department store for quality Sri Lankan products and has an excellent bookshop of Sri Lankan titles (mostly in English). There were quite a number of natural history titles including several field guides I had never heard of before. Their email address is: I only wish I had visited them at the start of my visit to Sri Lanka, rather than the last day.


  • Jon Langeland

    Thanks a lot for detailed and interesting report about a book, which seems to be a must for every wild lifephotographer going to Sri Lanka. Wish I have had it when I was visiting in march and when publishing my images after the trip in Instagram (leftjohn) and later on in Facebook. Jon Langeland

  • Dominic Sansoni

    Greetings! I was looking for a review on this book (to be quoted on our online shop/bookstore) and came across this post.
    Thank you for the very kind reference to our tiny bookshop in Colombo.
    We do make a point of trying to stock all books related to will;dlife, ornithology that are related to Sri Lanka.
    Please let me know if I may quote a few lines from Michael Jackson re the book.
    Thank you.
    Dominic Sansoni/Barefoot

    (web site should launch soon…)2HK

  • Michael Johnson

    Hi Dominic, from my point of view as the author of the review I am happy for you to quote it, just please note my name is Michael Johnson, not Jackson.

  • Dominic Sansoni

    My most sincere apologies for my carelessness.
    Thank you – I am so happy we can use your review and it will be correctly edited.

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