The good vibrations of an elephant herd
In The Elephant's Secret Sense, ecologist Caitlin O'Connell takes readers vicariously into the African country of Namibia, where the last migratory herd of African elephants shares the land with people. Farmers struggle to make a living, often seeing their efforts thwarted by elephants intent on eating their crops. The elephants, on the other hand, struggle themselves, finding their homeland infiltrated by humans, their migratory routes fenced and their lives threatened by poachersnot to mention anthrax and drought.
O'Connell spent 14 years studying the behavioral patterns of elephantsobserving how the matriarch behaved when things were peaceful and how her behavior changed when she perceived the herd was in danger. With extensive research, she realized that elephants not only pick up signals with their ears, they also sense signals through the ground, seismically. By recording and playing back elephant "talk"their rumbles when they're at peace, their "let's go" rumbles and alarm callsshe found similar reactions among elephants to seismic communication, played through the ground, and sounds heard through the air.
O'Connell creates vivid pictures of elephants that capture their individual personalitiesfrom the adorable baby elephants "walking in their little footy pajamas" trying to keep up with their mothers, rubbery trunks flopping in front of them, to the huge bulls who trail the breeding herds, hoping for an encounter with a willing female. The Elephant's Secret Sense also portrays the author's work with villagers in war-torn Namibia to promote conservation and preserve elephant habitat.
O'Connell's fascinating field research, her passion in helping the people and elephants of Namibia coexist and her artistry as a writer all combine to make this an exceptionally engrossing read.
Carolyn Stalcup is on the executive council of the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee, which provides a refuge for elephants from zoos and circuses.