Recommended Books

Recommended Books About Elephants and Animal/Human Co-Existance:
The Elephant’s Secret Sense: The Hidden Life of the Wild Herds of Africa
—Caitlin O’Connell

While observing a family of elephants in the wild, Caitlin O’Connell noticed a peculiar listening behavior—the matriarch lifted her foot and scanned the horizon, causing the other elephants to follow suit, as if they could “hear” the ground. The Elephant’s Secret Sense is O’Connell’s account of her groundbreaking research into seismic listening and communication, chronicling the extraordinary social lives of elephants over the course of fourteen years in the Namibian wilderness.

This compelling odyssey of scientific discovery is also a frank account of fieldwork in a poverty-stricken, war-ravaged country. In her attempts to study an elephant community, O’Connell encounters corrupt government bureaucrats, deadly lions and rhinos, poachers, farmers fighting for arable land, and profoundly ineffective approaches to wildlife conservation. The Elephant’s Secret Sense is ultimately a story of intellectual courage in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

The Secret Elephants
—Gareth Patterson

The elephants of the Knysna forest have long been the subject of mystery and conjecture. Over the years they have taken on an almost mythical quality, with many doubting whether they existed at all. In 1994 the local forestry department maintained that there was only one surviving Knysna elephant, the seldom seen female known as The Matriarch. The Knysna elephant was thus described as ‘functionally extinct’. This was the official stance until September 2000 when forest guard Wilfred Oraai encountered and photographed a young bull from a distance of some thirty metres. The question arose: who was its mother? And, indeed, who was its father? In 2001 Gareth Patterson began an independent study of the Knysna elephant. For the next seven years he covered thousands of kilometres on foot, following ancient elephant paths through the dense Afromontane forest and the surrounding mountain fynbos. He found abundant signs to suggest that, far from dying out, the Knysna elephants are, quietly and secretly, holding their own. Patterson’s fieldwork, and his DNA research in collaboration with conservation geneticist Lori Eggert, established that at least five young females exist, lending support to Patterson’s growing evidence that the Knysna forest and its surroundings are home to a small herd of young elephants. The Secret Elephants is the story of these remarkable animals that fought their way back from the brink of extinction without any help from humankind.

The Elephant Whisperer
—Lawrence Anthony

It had been nearly a century since elephants had lived in Zulu – land, South Africa, where Lawrence Anthony founded his wildlife reserve. Yet one day a surprise phone call changed all that. A troubled, unpredictable herd needed a new home. In order to save their lives, Lawrence took them in. And in the years that followed he has become a part of their family. “The Elephant Whisperer “is a heartwarming, exciting, funny, and sometimes sad account of his experiences with these huge yet sympathetic creatures. He tells of hair-raising fights with poachers, of elephants as surprise dinner guests, of raising a baby elephant in his home, and other incredible stories that will amaze animal-lovers everywhere.

It had been nearly a century since elephants had lived in Zulu – land, South Africa, where Lawrence Anthony founded his wildlife reserve. Yet one day a surprise phone call changed all that. A troubled, unpredictable herd needed a new home. In order to save their lives, Lawrence took them in. And in the years that followed he has become a part of their family. The Elephant Whisperer is a heartwarming, exciting, funny, and sometimes sad account of his experiences with these huge yet sympathetic creatures. He tells of hair-raising fights with poachers, of elephants as surprise dinner guests, of raising a baby elephant in his home, and other incredible stories that will amaze animal-lovers everywhere.

Silent Thunder: In the Presence of Elephants
—Katy Payne

Scientific discovery is not always the result of a careful accumulation of data or a measured consideration of the facts. Sometimes it takes a leap of imagination. Katy Payne, a naturalist and conservationist, took just such a leap and made an amazing discovery about how elephants communicate. And that was only the beginning of her adventure.

In 1984, Katy Payne visited the elephants at Washington Park Zoo in Portland. Oregon. She had been studying whale songs for the last fifteen years, and she was curious about the ways that elephants — the largest living land mammals — communicated with each other.

What Payne observed in her first week seemed, at the time, to be little cause for scientific excitement. But on her flight home, she flushed back to a childhood experience of singing in the church choir. Suddenly she realized that she had felt, in the presence of the elephants, a deep throbbing in the air just like the lowest notes of the church organ. Payne and two colleagues were soon able to show that elephants are powerful infrasound — sound pitched too low for the human ear to hear — in communication. This “silent thunder” allows elephants to intract over long distances.

This brilliant, unorthodox, nonlinearless was the basis of her discovery of infrasonic communication among elephant and is typical of Payne’s work as a naturalist. It also infuses this deeply felt and observed book with an extraordinary spirit, Payne and her colleagues went on to do important field research on elephant communication in Kenya, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. But in 1991 the peaceful rhythms of their work were violently interrupted by a cull—a planned killing—that destroyed five of the elephant families they were studying. This destruction convinced her that all life is sacred. Payne determined to challenge the philosophies that support culling.

Silent Thunder is a natural history rich in ponderings about the animal world and how humans participate in it. It is also a passionate story of Payne’s own spiritual quest as she turns an observant eye on her own role in this world and honors the holistic perspective of her indigenous friends, who became her teachers in Zimbabwe, Payne’s courage and empathy shine through on every page, giving this unique combination of scientific journal and personal memoir an unforgettable emotional power.

Among the Elephants
—Iain and Oria Douglas-Hamilton

“Iain Douglas-Hamilton did the first systematic study of elephants’ behaviour in the wild and the book outlines his work and living with his young family for five years in Lake Manyara National Park in Tanzania. It’s a fascinating book and a great starter before you read any of Cynthia Moss’s books. I believe her study of the elephants in Amboseli takes up/follows on from Iain Douglas-Hamilton’s work. Interestingly it was thought five years was ample time to learn all there was to learn about wild elephants but Cynthia Moss’s long term study has shown that not to be the case.

It’s an old book first published in 1975 by Collins & Harvill press and first issued by Fontana in 1978.

If you like your elephants… this is a must read.”

Above comment by Susan Jane Lees

—Lyall Waston

A scientific safari and personal memoir celebrating the enigmatic dignity of the world’s largest land animal.

As a child in South Africa, spending summers exploring the wild with his boyhood friends, Lyall Watson came face to face with his first elephant. From that moment on, Watson’s fascination grew into a lifelong obsession with understanding the nature and behavior of this impressive creature. Around the world, the elephant—at once a symbol of spiritual power and physical endurance—has been worshipped as a god and hunted for sport. In this captivating portrait of the elephant, Watson draws from scientific research, anthropological studies, and personal experience to document the animal’s wide-ranging capabilities to remember and to mourn; and he reminds us of its rich mythic origins, its evolution, and its devastation in recent history.

Part meditation on an elusive animal, part evocation of the power of place, Elephantoms presents an alluring mix of the mysteries of nature and the wonders of childhood.

Excerpt From Elephantoms

It was fine to be in a place where “as far as the eye can see” means something. It is no idle boast here, but a confident statement of fact. You can see almost forever….

Looking inland, I saw where fynbos and forest had been cleared to plant martial rows of alien pines and thought it a poor exchange. All that was left of the patch of forest out of which we had run in panic from a ghostly elephant was the great yellowwood that had been the focus of our attention. It was intact but, deprived of the forest around it, showed more than a hint of nervousness, like someone caught unawares, unclothed. The sea was just the same, rolling in almost in slow motion, leaving, even on this fine day, a haze over the rocky coastline. I closed my eyes and enjoyed the white noise of all this from the cliff top, letting it lap over me, evolving other oceans, other times spent whale watching—and when I opened my eyes, there was a whale right there. (read more)

Elephant Memories: Thirteen Years in the Life of an Elephant Family
—Cynthia Moss

Cynthia Moss has studied the elephants in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park for over twenty-seven years. Her long-term research has revealed much of what we now know about these complex and intelligent animals. Here she chronicles the lives of the members of the T families led by matriarchs Teresia, Slit Ear, Torn Ear, Tania, and Tuskless. With a new afterword catching up on the families and covering current conservation issues, Moss’s story will continue to fascinate animal lovers.

Coming of Age With Elephants: A Memoir
—Joyce Poole

A story of Joyce Poole, an American raised in Africa, who returned to Kenya at age 19 to study elephants under another elephant expert, Cynthia Moss, who had undertaken the long-term study of the huge elephants herds in Amboseli National Park in Kenya. Every individual elephant is named and tracked throughout its life.

In a speech she gave in 2001, Poole lists the aspects of elephants she studied: ‘social organization and behavior, population demography, reproductive behavior, male aggressive behavior and musth, feeding behavior and ecology, maternal behavior and calf development, female competition and cooperation, vocal repertoire and communication networks, Maasai attitudes toward elephants, elephant ranging patterns, reproductive endocrinology, and genetics.’

Poole’s memoir also traces her own maturation and the problems she faced as a scientist and as a woman in this world. There are difficult passages dealing with poachers and human predators. Nonetheless Poole remains a passionate advocate for elephants, and this book has become a classic in the field.”

Above write up by A. Wolff

Echo of the Elephants: The Story of an Elephant Family
—Cynthia Moss and Martyn Colbeck

In January 1990, Cynthia Moss, the founder of the Amboseli Elephant Research Project, and wildlife photographer Martyn Colbeck set out to record eighteen months in the life of one elephant family in Amboseli National Park in Kenya. Echo of the Elephants describes their findings while offering, in words and pictures, fascinating insights into elephant behavior. Cynthia and Martyn enter the world of the elephant family at a time when the wisdom and resourcefulness of the matriarch, Echo, is tested to the limit. Threatened by severe drought and the increasing encroachment of the modern world, Echo guides her family as they seek food, water, safety, and companionship. Her calm and wisdom sustain her even through the near-tragic birth of her own calf, Ely. As time passes, the personalities of the individual elephants emerge, accompanied by a remarkable understanding of the complex rules and customs that govern elephant behavior. By the end of the book, the reader has discovered the most intimate details of elephant life, including birth, death, courtship, mating, fighting, playing, and survival. Echo of the Elephants, which accompanies a major PBS Nature program, is a unique and beautifully illustrated account of an elephant family. (also available on DVD)

The Orphans of Tsavo
—Daphne Sheldrick

Tsavo East, in Kenya: a huge and almost uninhabited tract of territory, rich in wildlife. When David Sheldrick became its Game Warden, with the task of transforming Tsavo into a National Park, Daphne Sheldrick brought up their young family there—and cared for the many orphans of Tsavo.

Rhino, buffalo, bush pigs, elephants, zebra and many others wandered around her garden and home. Some she raised from infancy, others came and went; but always, the intention was to return them to the wild. Meanwhile they provided her children with endless entertainment and husband with a unique opportunity to study their habits.

African Elephants: A Celebration of Majesty
—Sharna and Daryl Balfour

In this stunning showcase, photographers Daryl and Sharna Balfour present a celebration of the most magnificent awe-inspiring land animal on earth. This incredible collection of over 200 photographs, reveals the fascinating lives of African elephants, their individual behavior, and even their intriguing social relationships. African Elephants is truly a remarkable chronicle of this majestic creature, a book that is only surpassed by the incredible photography exhibited here.

Little Big Ears: The Story of Ely
—Cynthia Moss and Martyn Colbeck

Below the snow-capped peak of Kilimanjaro stretch the warm grasses and abundant swamps of Amboseli-East Africa’s most-visited wildlife park. Its grand scenery frames this photo-essay derived from the PBS documentary Echo of the Elephants. Echo is among the more than 800 elephants protected here from ivory hunters, and an established matriarch-‘the most beautiful and gentle of the grandmother elephants’ with ‘lovely, curved tusks.’ When she gives birth to Ely, a deformity threatens the young calf’s life. With his front legs severely bent, Ely cannot reach his mother’s breast to nurse; he cannot get to the shade that would save him from the sun’s needling heat. In this true account of Ely’s persistence and his family’s encouragement, the youngster triumphs and embarks on a normal (though sometimes uncertain) life. [Moss’] first-hand knowledge of wildlife relationships and intelligence shines through focused, clean prose. Colbeck’s luminous photographs reflect the light, heat and texture of Amboseli as well as the power and tenderness of its compelling inhabitants.

The Astonishing Elephant
—Shana Alexander

When Shana Alexander, a staff writer at Life magazine, won the right to name her own assignments, her first choice was a week-by-week account of a zoo elephant’s pregnancy, believed to be the first in the history of captive elephants. Finally, in 1962, after twenty-two months, the baby was born, and Alexander’s story was proudly trumpeted on Life’s cover. Ever since, between other projects, she has made writing and learning about elephants a special interest.

In The Astonishing Elephant, Shana Alexander tells a story filled with drama, humor, sorrow, greed, sex, science—and surprising human interest. Physiologically, elephants are unique—entirely different from all other mammals. Yet, since antiquity, observers have agreed that the elephant is the animal most akin to man.

Today both species of elephant—Africans and Asians—stand on the brink of extinction. Hope is arising, however, from a new generation of young American scientists, many of them women. Female zoologists and biologists have led the field in new findings about elephant ecology, family and sexual patterns, and the animals’ continual communication by ultrasound, inaudible to human ears.

The Astonishing Elephant also reveals, for the first time, a hair-raising story of elephant genocide: in the years between the Civil War and World War I, all male elephants in U.S. circuses were stealthily killed—shot, poisoned, drowned, and even hanged. The reason was musth, a periodic condition of mature males that renders them uncontrollable. So, gradually, only female elephants—now with masculine names—were put on parade, with no one the wiser.

Most important, The Astonishing Elephant details a decade of heartbreaking trial and error and eventual triumph as scientists have tried to learn how to breed elephants via artificial insemination.

Shana Alexander has traveled the world for this story. She has visited India and Africa, interviewing the brave researchers who are devoting their lives to the oversize mysteries of elephants. She has looked back in history, detailing the elephant’s importance in every major religion, in work, in warfare, and in its position—now threatened—at the heart of every circus, from Rome to Ringling.

The Astonishing Elephant contains everything old and new that a reader has ever wondered about elephants, told in the stylish prose for which Shana Alexander is celebrated.

Entering the Ghost River: Meditations on the Theory and Practice of Healing
—Deena Metzger

September 11th called this book into being. At the threshold of a sabbatical, I changed direction entirely and gave more than the next six months to writing this book on the practice of healing. I wrote it, as the times demanded, without inhibition, calling myself, on a daily basis, to the courage and stamina it takes to say what must be said. Entering the Ghost River was written during the period of shellshock that afflicted the country. Trauma immobilizes and confuses its victims, distorting their responses and behavior until the trauma is healed. Time does not heal traumas, consciousness does. As the nation tried to understand and assimilate the attack, other forces, perhaps deliberately taking advantage of the situation, or overwhelmed by fear and helplessness, began creating measures that could further immobilize the population by undermining the Bill of Rights. A line from my last book, The Other Hand, began repeating itself in my mind when I learned that the U.S. government is contemplating using nuclear weapons in an ongoing war they are planning: “We have taken the building blocks of creation and made a bomb of them.” Terrorism from without has instigated terror within. Never before in our nation’s history, not even after Pearl Harbor, has it been so clear that the voices, nature and activity of healing and Council need to be called forth.

In the last years, I have been concerned with the state of publishing in America. I was raised with great pride in the freedoms associated with this country. Not a small influence on my becoming a writer is the sacred responsibility to act on behalf of justice and compassion. In the largest sense, the mandate is to search out and reveal truth in all its forms, no less the revelation of beauty than the examination of suffering. But increasingly, I became aware of the ways in which publishing is no longer devoted to the freedoms that are essential to an informed and self-governing society. It wasn’t the kind of political repression that characterizes so many tyrannical governments of the modern world that concerned me earlier, but the impact of economic values that were amounting to censorship as large corporate conglomerates began to dominate the publishing arena, financially and conceptually, converting the book from a gift into a commodity. Increasingly, the wisdom and acuity of fine editors are being replaced by the no-nonsense authority of publicity and promotion departments devoted to the profit margin. What must be said is so often modified by or replaced by what salesmen say will sell.

With these concerns, I often speculated on the tradition of the Samizdat, the mimeographed manuscripts that were secretly circulated at great risk in the Soviet Union during the time of Stalin and afterwards. Many of them made their desperate way to the West so that we were apprised of the horrors of Soviet life, creating great sympathy and support for those suffering under extreme oppression. And, within the Soviet Union, certainly they were the means through which consciousness and hope were carried until such time that a free press might emerge.

When Entering the Ghost River was finished, I sent it to an agent and then before she had a chance to read the manuscript, I withdrew it. Many events, not the least of which was the threatened shredding in January, 2002 of seventy-five thousand copies of Michael Moore’s book, Stupid White Men that, among other things, outlined the stolen Presidential election of George W. Bush and presaged the Enron scandal and the administration’s involvement in it. Stupid White Men was to have been published in September but the September 11th bombing and the political response of the government frightened or inhibited the publisher, Harper Collins. A huge non-partisan e-mail protest finally obligated the publisher to publish the book on February 19, 2002 without, thankfully, any of the extreme modifications that the publisher had demanded until that time.

Entering the Ghost River embodies work on healing that I have been developing over the last ten years, and that has realized an unexpected applicability since 9/11. And as the ways of healing are newly understood, so is the nature of disease, both personal and political. Given the times, I felt a great sense of urgency, but it was not only the urgency of concern, it was the urgency of hope. I saw that September 11th could also become a vehicle for deep soul searching and self-scrutiny and I saw that the book could assist us in the practice of transformation and peacemaking. The gift came through me, from ‘elsewhere’, from the Divine, from the spirits, unimpeded, and I thought that I must offer it to the world in the same way—as a gift, and unimpeded, and with the same speed and urgency that it was offered to me. Eschewing all practical and economic considerations, I saw that I was being called, for the first time in my life, to bring the book out as a private edition so that it would not be subject to censorship or delay.

That is how Hand to Hand came to be. Originally, I had thought of using the name Samizdat, but friends pointed out that this carried a sense of reactivity when the feeling we wanted to communicate was of generosity and possibility. “Samizdat implies manuscripts being passed hand to hand,” I said in defense, and instantly understood what the imprint was to be.

In the process of imagining this private edition, I realized that we could be creating a form and a vehicle for other self-published works—books, plays, music, performances, films—that have at their core the necessity of saying what must be said and the commitment of the authors and the community. Hand to Hand is grounded in Daré which is one of the subjects of this book. Daré, meaning Council in the Shona language of Zimbabwe, is the means through which healing is restored to the center of the community where it belongs. Or it is a community that coheres around Council and healing. Hand to Hand restores the word to the community from which it originates, which it serves and where it belongs. The word coheres a community and the community offers the word a basis for its existence.

In the last years, I have received instructions from the ancestors and from indigenous peoples concerned for the planet on how to live an ethical and useful life: Teach the pattern and put the forms in place. Hand to Hand, like Daré, comes out of this injunction.

My vision is that this book will be passed from hand to hand so that it will be received by those for whom it will matter. I imagine the book as the beginning of the kind of conversation or council that takes place at Daré where we tell each other what really matters in our lives, and where we are each deeply affected by the interchange and the wisdom that resides in each individual. I imagine readings or public events that will end in Council so that the people in the audience will become a community through the contemplation and response to what is of deep concern to them all. A book, an Imprint, a venture that has the possibility of creating camaraderie on matters of heart, soul and our very survival. A book and an imprint that points toward and awakens hope and possibility. And so I offer this to you, hand to hand.

From Grief Into Vision: A Council
—Deena Metzger

Never before in our history as a human race have we been confronted with such grave concerns: the devastation of the environment, global terrorism, vast abuse of political and religious powers, destruction of species and threats to every life form upon this planet. How do we sustain our hope, and our vision of a viable future? Inevitably such disasters are opportunities to draw us together as a people to try and heal ourselves and the Earth.

“It is a difficult and sorrowful story that we are in. If requires everything of each of us who have enough love, shorrow and courage in our hearts. We have to find the pieces of this sotry that may yet sustain creation.”

Deena’s journey, as chronicled in Entering the Ghost River, continues as she returns to Africa and is once again visited by the male elephant elder she calls “The Ambassador”. Inspired by this continued connection, she interweaves the threads of her community’s stories, dreams and visions to create a new form of council on the page, as an offering to us of the wisdom that the circle creates.

Epiphany occurs as the stories in the field come together into one story. We have to bring them together, find the coherence and possibility among all the parts. We have to find, and then live the coherent story.

“It is not only that the issues we face require that we address them in council, it is that in council we see our ongoing and essential interdependence.”

With councils, in community, we hear the collective wisdom of not only one another, but “all our relations,” the plants, animals and the Earth itself. It is the vision of this wisdom that speaks to us in ways that mere rhetoric cannot, that allows us to once again feel the interconnection of all beings, past, present and future.