Dr. Don E. Wilson is Curator Emeritus, Vertebrate Zoology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian. He is the author of more than 250 scientific publications and 25 books on a variety of topics, including the mammals of North American, bats, humans, biodiversity, and mammal species of the world. He is an elected Fellow of the AAAS, and Honorary member of ASM.
DK: There were six other consultants working on various aspects of Wildlife of the World, but you were the Editorial Consultant. What does that mean? How did you contribute to the book?
Dr. Don E. Wilson: As the Editorial Consultant for the Smithsonian Institution, I read through all of the content and checked all of the final layouts. I ensured the scientific accuracy of all of the content and I’m happy to say that I am very pleased with the final product.
DK: The animal profiles in Wildlife of the World have distinct focuses. While each profile covers general information for the individual species, some, like the Bornean Orangutan, lend more text to highlight their habitat, while others, like the Andean condor, focus on reproductive cycle. Why is this the case?
Wilson: The world’s wildlife is extremely variable and our knowledge of each species is also quite variable. In many cases, we have highlighted those aspects of an animal’s biology that are best known, or most important for some reason. Hence, for Orangutans, they are endangered primarily because of habitat destruction by humans. Condors, on the other hand, have a unique reproductive cycle that results in a very slow growth rate for Condor populations. Both species are endangered, but for different reasons.
DK: What makes Wildlife of the World different from other animal guidebooks or encyclopedias?
Wilson: There are two reasons that Wildlife of the World stands out from all other books of this genre. First of all, the coverage is very broad, with a wonderful sampling of the diversity of wildlife on earth. Secondly, the organization by geography and ecoregions is unique. Putting both of those together makes for a unique volume that covers and amazing diversity of wildlife from every corner of the planet.
DK: One of the most attractive features of Wildlife of the World is the use of stunning, portrait-like photography. In what way do you feel this particular style of photography adds to the overall quality of Wildlife of the World?
Wilson: I think all of us are drawn to nature by the visually compelling diversity of habitats and organisms. Wildlife photography has grown to include some incredible shots of an amazing variety of the earth’s fauna. In general, wildlife photography tries to convey both the characteristics of individual species, and also their individual behaviors. Wildlife of the World does an excellent job of presenting each species in a way that makes it immediately distinct from other related species.
DK: The size and volume of the book lend a rather academic feel to Wildlife of the World. How could this book be useful for the everyday reader? How should she/he approach the text?
Wilson: The volume is indeed hefty, and the information content is very high. My job was to insure the accuracy of the academic content, but I also worked to make sure that the text was always accessible to readers at all levels. One beauty of the book is that there is no need to sit down and read it straight through. You can open it to any page and immediately be drawn in by beautiful photos. Reading the accompanying text will put those photos into context and quickly build your knowledge of the fauna of any given region.
DK: Do you have a favorite page or profile in the book?
Wilson: No, that is a little like asking if I have a favorite child! I am a huge fan of large, weighty tomes filled with striking photographs of animals. My job is to ensure that the text accompanying those amazing photos is scientifically accurate, and that we have done all we can do to present what we know about the species we highlight.
Wildlife of the World takes you on a journey through some of the most scenic and rich animal habitats - from the Amazon rain forests to the Himalayas, the Sahara to the South Pole - meeting the most important animals in each ecosystem along the way.