Rory Putman’s book helps us to understand how and why animals behave as they do, whether we observe them in the wild or in captivity. The text is developed from his essays and lectures for Adult Education courses. He writes clearly in a scholarly style, and deliberately avoids peppering his text with follow up pointers for reading and references to latest detailed theory. This has occasional frustrations and it risks flak from academic purists, but it makes for a smoother read for non-specialists who are the main audience for the book. His comprehensive treatment of the subject will suit a range of practitioners including naturalists. The focus is on mammals, but birds and invertebrates feature in some of the examples and illustrations.
The book asks questions at two levels: why an animal behaves as it does and seeks to survive in any given situation: and how an animal performs a certain behaviour in given circumstances - “the physiological nuts and bolts” as Putman calls it.
There are 16 chapters ranging across topics such as behavioural reflexes and behavioural genetics, to territoriality, aggression and how animals navigate. There is a long and helpful chapter on social organisation and behaviour, including insights on defence against predators, group foraging, and social behaviour of deer species in different habitats, relating to examples in Africa and Britain. The final section raises 28 points about detailed behaviour and curiosities, including the flehmen response, use of pheromones, recognition of mother, capability for self-awareness, and use of tools. These latter sections are in snippets and sometimes seem too abrupt. But I forgive the author - overall he brings the subject alive in this engaging book.
Most of the double page spreads benefit from detailed pencil drawings of the wildlife subjects from Catherine Putman. The book is the product of a brave and impressive family coalition.