Philip L. Sclater, British zoologist, was educated at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, during 1846-1849, passing with a first in mathematics in the latter year. He remained at Oxford for the next two years, studying natural history and modern languages, and was awarded the degree Master of Arts (MA). From 1851 he practised for some time as a lawyer. In 1847, aged only 18, he became a member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Later he served on its council (1864-1867, 1872-1875), as president of its Zoology Section (1875), and as general secretary of the association (1876-1881). In 1860 he was awarded the honorary degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) by the University of Bonn, Germany, and in 1901 the degree Doctor of Science (DSc) by the University of Oxford. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London (1861), the Linnean Society, the Geological Society of London, the Royal Geographical Society, and the Zoological Society (1857). As secretary of the latter from 1859 to 1902 he contributed much to the advancement of zoology by building up its magnificent library and providing assistance to many young naturalists. In 1862 he married Jane A.E. Hunter-Blair, with whom he had four children.
Sclater is best remembered as an ornithologist. He was a foundation member of the British Ornithologists' Union and the first editor of its journal, The Ibis, from 1858 to 1864 and again from 1878 to the year before his death; also chairman of the British Ornithologists' Club from its establishment in 1892. During his earlier years he made a special study of the birds of Central and South America and in 1888-1889 published Argentine ornithology. His collection from these regions went to the British Museum (Natural History), where he worked. During his time there he contributed four volumes to the Catalogue of birds at the British Museum. He frequently visited continental Europe, went to the United States in 1856 and also visited north Africa. From 1851 onwards he published more than 500 ornithological papers. The most important of these was probably "On the general geographic distribution of the members of the class avis...", in which he identified six zoogeographical regions of the world according to their bird life.
Some of Sclater's publications pertain to the zoology of southern Africa. For example, with M.R. Oldfield Thomas (a mammal expert at the British Museum) he wrote The book of antelopes (London, 1894-1900, 4 vols), which included full descriptions and illustrations of all known African antelopes; and as co-author with his eldest son, William L. Sclater*, he contributed to The geography of mammals (London, 1899). In 1899 he presented five spiders to the South African Museum, one of which was new to its collection.
In 1905 Sclater visited South Africa to attend the joint meeting of the British and South African Associations for the Advancement of Science. At that time he was a member of two zoological committees of the British Association and a member of the committee for Section D (Zoology). While in South Africa he attended the annual meeting of the South African Ornithologists' Union, founded in 1904, of which he had already been elected an honorary member. He was generally helpful to other zoologists, but had an arrogant and dictatorial manner