Erik Hirschfeld's own brainchild, this is the first edition of what is planned to be an annual publication on the status of the world's rarest birds, produced in conjunction with BirdLife International. Introductory chapters cover a range of subjects including projects in place to study and / or protect endangered species, species champions, a global directory of BirdLife partners, interesting accounts of four (new) 'species finders', an account of the recent rediscovery of Madagascar Pochard Aythya innotata (see Bull. ABC 14: 171-174), the impact of climate change, migration studies, an overview of the status of Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus (a recently 'split' form which is already considered to be Critically Endangered), and the role of ecotourism in conserving threatened birds. All of the opening chapters are well written and provide considerable food for thought in respect of the threats and opportunities facing everyone working to save endangered birds.
The bulk of the book, 164 pages, comprises a directory of the 189 Critically Endangered species, the basis for their classification (e.g. small population, reduction in population size, limited geographical range etc.) being clearly outlined in the introduction to the section. The accounts vary in length according to the knowledge available, but all species receive at least half a page and longer accounts extend to two pages. Most are accompanied by a map showing the species' range and one or more, often excellent, colour photographs - a competition was run to encourage photographers to submit material for inclusion. Where photographs were unavailable, a colour illustration is included instead. Species accounts cover a range of subjects including range and population, threats, conservation actions to date, conservation actions required and, in the longer accounts, a species 'history'. The accounts provide much useful information, but I found myself wanting more and was disappointed at the lack of a bibliography or further reading section either within the accounts or at the end of the book.
From an ABC perspective, it is pleasing to report that only 29 of the 189 Critically Endangered species occur in 'our' region, although I suspect that this partially reflects our poor knowledge of the distribution and population of some scarcer African species, rather than being a true reflection of the number of so-threatened species within the ABC region. Of the species covered, nine are presumed breeders in continental Africa, 15 (including three scops owls Otus spp.) occur on offshore islands and five are winter visitors, migrants or vagrants.
Additional chapters cover species considered to have become extinct since 1500, a directory of tour operators offering trips to see endangered species in 2008 (although I was disappointed to see a number of the ABC's corporate sponsors missing from this list, despite them offering specific tours to search for these threatened birds), a summary of the threats to Critically Endangered species, a list of Critically Endangered species by country, a summary of the last dates on which some of these species were recorded, a species index, a checklist of Critically Endangered species, stop press (a summary of exciting discoveries / developments in 2007), and an invitation to register interest in the next edition due to be published in October 2008. Again these chapters are a rich source of information, although I would question whether there is really a market for an annual publication of this kind, or whether it should be updated every 2 - 4 years instead.
Overall this is an excellent publication and, given the amount of information it contains and the number of photographs included, is excellent value for money. It should be bought by anyone interested in the conservation of these birds, which hopefully includes all ABC members. If every ABC member bought a copy we would immediately generate another UK£5,000 for conservation.