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Reviewed by Zahrah Nasir

Snakes are far from being everyone’s favourite creatures. In fact, a majority of people are absolutely petrified of them which, in some cases but not all, is an eminently sensible reaction as there are a sizeable number of poisonous snakes here in Pakistan.

The problem though, has always been to identify poisonous snakes from harmless ones and the publication of a well-illustrated book on snakes should rectify this problem to an extent.

A Contribution to the Herpetology of Northern Pakistan: The Amphibians and Reptiles of Margalla Hills National Park and Surrounding Regions is written by Rafaqat Masroor, a research associate in herpetology at the Pakistan Museum of Natural History, Islamabad, where he is in charge of the herpetological collections.

Published by The Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles which comprises biologists from over 60 countries, this beautifully presented, hardcover book, complete with colour photographs and excellent maps, is divided into eight comprehensive, illuminating and easily understandable chapters. It starts out with a useful checklist of the amphibians and reptiles found in the Margalla Hills National Park, followed by an equally helpful chapter on how to identify the families and species resident in this increasingly popular tourist and walkers’ paradise which borders Islamabad.

This book then moves on to take a look at toads and frogs, turtles and tortoises and devotes a detailed chapter to lizards which, so it happens, are of special interest to the author who has personally discovered and named a number of previously unrecorded lizard species in Pakistan.

Masroor also provides valuable information about the five families of snakes most commonly found in the areas covered in the book and provides details of class, order, family, genus, species and English names along with diagnostic features, habits and habitat, concluding with a summary of remarks of which a fascinating example is as follows:

“Indian Cobra (Naja naja): A great deal of myth surrounds these snakes. There is said to exist a cobra which is a king of the snakes, white in colour and guarding a treasure; certain ones are reputed to carry a substance that shines in the dark and instantly heals snake bite and attracts wealth and good luck. Bites of this species are often fatal”.

Next Masroor takes a look at the distribution of amphibians and reptiles within the boundaries of the MargallaHillsNational Park and follows this with details of the current threats they face, loss of habitat and destruction of fragile ecosystems being of prime concern.

Finishing off with an excellent glossary, bibliography and an appendix on the amphibian and reptilian diversity of Pakistan, Masroor has done a wonderful job compiling a valuable academic work which is also of interest to the general public.

A Contribution to the Herpetology of Northern Pakistan

(Nature studies)

By Rafaqat Masroor

Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles (USA) and Chimaira (Germany)

ISBN 0916984834