The Elephant's Secret Sense: The Hidden Life of the Wild Herds of Africa by Caitlin O'Connell


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Naturalist O'Connell's memoir of her 14 years researching the complexities of elephant behavior is a successful combination of science and soulfulness, explaining her groundbreaking theory of how elephants use seismic communication; she also sympathetically illuminates current social and ecological conditions in Africa. O'Connell's original goal in 1992 was to spend a year driving from South Africa to Kenya, but then she was hired for a three-year study of elephants in an area of northeastern Namibia, "where violent death is as much a part of the landscape as the capricious nature of rain." Fascinated by the "particular way that elephants seemed to be listening with their feet," she soon realized that the elephants were communicating with sound waves "that travel within the surface of the ground as opposed to the air." Her efforts over the next decade to prove this "unexpected and controversial" hypothesis took her "to the bayous of Texas, the Nevada desert, southern India, northern Zimbabwe, the Oakland Zoo, and then back to the scrub desert" of Namibia. Her account is studded with sympathetic insights and well-turned phrases, such as her delight when "100 tons of pachyderm pass by, almost tiptoeing, heads bobbing in their Groucho Marx gait."

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