In light of the recent decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to lift the ban on importing “sport” hunted trophies of elephants from Zimbabwe and Zambia, it seems that a short overview of some recent worthwhile books about elephants is in order – in case any readers of The Well-read Naturalist should find themselves needing to engage in a discussion, say… over a holiday supper table, perhaps with a family member seeking to defend this myopic administrative decision.
Let’s begin with Elephant Don; the Politics of a Pachyderm Posse by Dr. Caitlin O’Connell, Consulting Assistant Professor in the Department of Otolaryngology, Head & Neck Surgery at Stanford University School of Medicine and world renowned expert on elephants and vibrotactile sensitivity. “In Elephant Don, O’Connell, one of the leading experts on elephant communication and social behavior, offers a rare inside look at the social world of African male elephants” When it comes to making the social world of elephants clearly intelligible to human way-of-understanding, there is no one I can think of more adapt than Dr. O’Connell.
Next, and extraordinarily appropriate as elephant tusks were a prime item that the now lifted ban in question was to prevent the importation of, I would like to recommend Ivory; Power and Poaching in Africa by Keith Somerville, career BBC World Service and BBC News journalist, and honorary professor at the Centre for Journalism at the University of Kent. Somerville’s book examines how “the huge rise in poaching and ivory smuggling in the new millennium has destroyed the hope that the 1989 ivory trade ban had capped poaching and would lead to a long-term fall in demand” by delving deep into the history of the ivory trade and the many social, economic, and ecological effects it has had on both Africa and the rest of the world.
Then, for something a little different, there is the remarkable volume from Penn State University Press’ Animalibus series Elephant House by Dick Blau and Nigel Rothfels, which presents its readers with “a thought-provoking study of the Oregon Zoo’s Asian Elephant Building and the daily routines of its residents—human and pachyderm alike.”
And thus let us round out this short survey by returning to another University of Chicago Press – well, imprint distributed by, at least – book: Elephant by Dan Wylie. Part of the the “Animal” series from Reaktion Books that “uniquely explores the natural history of an animal alongside its historical and cultural impact on humankind,” Wylie’s Elephant provides a concise yet, in keeping with the series’ Zeitgeist, thorough and remarkably wide-ranging overview of elephants and our own species interactions with them.
So there you have them – four books about these remarkable, fascinating, and highly charismatic mammals that will provide anyone interested in them with a well-rounded understanding of their natural and cultural history, so that if any conversation should turn to the topic of elephants, you’ll be thoroughly prepared to speak intelligently at length about them.