Asumptuous celebration of the Sinai peninsula’s flora and fauna, Wildlife in South Sinai is a feast for the eyes. This latest book written and photographed by husband-and-wife team Dina Aly and Rafik Khalil is a photographic essay of the very highest standard. The images are quite simply stunning.
Far from being just another coral reef fest, this is a book on the wildlife of the mountains, wadis and plains of South Sinai and is the result of years travelling in the region and of innumerable hours of patient fieldwork. For those whose experience of South Sinai is a hike up Mount Sinai to join the throngs gathering for sunrise over the summit, this volume, funded by the EU in co-operation with the South Sinai government, should prove a revelation. For those, like myself, fortunate to have spent time in the area, it is a coffee-table reunion with its natural history in stunning color and clarity.
After a brief but inspiring introduction, the body of the 184 pages is divided into main sections on mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, invertebrates and plants. Each section is lavishly illustrated with the authors’ photographs of the very highest quality. Aly and Khalil are award-winning wildlife photographers, and this book proves exactly why.
In my own sphere of especial interest, the opening mammals section, there are exquisite and extremely rare shots of the elusive Arabian Wolf and of the Striped Hyena. The two-page spread of the enigmatic Rock Hyrax captures not only the physical features of the animal, but its character, of which hyraxes have abundance, too.
More familiar will be the birds. The South Sinai specialties are all here: the glossy black Tristram’s Grackle, the Yellow-vented Bulbul, the Blackstart, Chukar and many others. The plates capture the gleaming purple and green iridescence of the male Palestine Sunbird but also the subtle vermiculations of the Sand Partridge and the bold monochrome of the White-crowned Black Wheatear. But for me, the stand-out portrait is that of the male Sinai Rosefinch, resplendent in deep rose-pink and masterfully juxtaposed with hawthorn berries of a similar hue. And then there is Hume’s Tawny Owl, described in one field guide as “one of the least known owls in the world, very rarely reliably observed in the field.” It can now perch reliably on the coffee table.
The bold and the beautiful are found in less-expected images. A two-page spread of Burton’s Carpet Viper beautifully captures the intricate patterning in the pastel beiges, grays and pinks that give the snake its name. And the Ornate Dabb Lizard simply could not be more ornate — a male in thickset breeding bulk basking and magnificent in emerald green, turquoise, yellow and magenta.
But while the portraits of the mega-fauna are indeed outstanding, it is Aly and Khalil’s eye for the Lilliputians, the little guys, that so deeply impress. The gaudy Dabb straddling his rock is always going to catch the eye, but the photographs capture the bold colors and patterns or intricate camouflage of the micro-fauna too: the butterflies and moths, the flies and dragonflies, the bees, wasps, spiders and scorpions. The caterpillars leap from the pages — impossibly flamboyant and redolent of Jim Henson’s most over-the-top puppetry. And the photos are not just portraits. There is behavior too whether the female Wolf Spider carrying her egg case, the deadly battle for dominance between dueling scorpions or the emergence after years as an aquatic nymph of an adult dragonfly.
This is a book of images and is superb for that alone. But for each plate there is a short but informative caption reenforcing the visual with the descriptive and explanatory. The Arabic and/or tribal name is given for each species and, most refreshingly, the local Bedouin guides, escorts and companions are given full credit and thanks. This is especially so for the final section on the plants of South Sinai.Not only is their natural history described but so is their role in local lore, culture and tradition. et