Nature and Environmental Book Reviews

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books




Who isn’t fascinated by elephants? These gargantuan creatures are so large and so different from us that we can’t help but observe with awe their patient submission to their trainers.

Yet there is much more to learn about elephants. Cynthia Moss, in her captivating book Elephant Memories: Thirteen Years in the Life of an Elephant Family, reports her findings after researching an elephant family in Amboseli National Park in Kenya for more than a decade. She studied several elephant groups in the wild, piecing together their ages and relationships from patient observation of many small details in their daily lives. She found that experienced females lead these families, which are comprised of male and female children, sisters, nieces and nephews, and some grandchildren. Adult males live mostly alone, making contact with females primarily for breeding.

Moss observed births and deaths; grief, altruism and cooperation; examples of long-range communication between family members; and examples of how seasoned family matriarchs have the experience and wisdom to make crucial decisions regarding where to lead the band to find adequate water and feed during drought periods.

These recommended books on elephants will fascinate and enlighten you.

Recommended Books and DVDs on Elephants

African Elephants
Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books

African Elephants
Reinhard Kunkel

Few wildlife photographers have worked in such close proximity with their subjects as Reinhard Kunkel. His close observation and decades of familiarity with these majestic animals are on display in the amazing photographs in this book. The 120 color plates capture elephants in all aspects of their daily lives: eating, bathing, mating, traveling, socializing, playing and fighting. A gorgeous volume. 1999, Harry N. Abrams


African SilencesAfrican Silences
Peter Matthiessen

Matthiessen reports on the almost total devastation of wildlife in Senegal, Gambia, and the Ivory Coast and describes an expedition searching for the rare Congo peacock and gorillas in the Virunga Mountains of Zaire. He accompanied ecologist David (Jonah) Western to the Central African Republic, Gabon, and Zaire to survey populations of the forest elephant and visit the Mbuti Pygmies of the Ituri Forest. Matthiessen's delight in the Mbuti and his cautious optimism about the effects of the recent ban on ivory trafficking somewhat softens his otherwise grim message about the fate of the people and wildlife of Africa. 1992, Vintage

Echo and Other Elephants DVDEcho and Other Elephants (DVD)
David Attenborough and Cynthia Moss

Witness some of the most moving and intimate elephant behavior ever captured on film. Elephant expert Cynthia Moss studied the elephants of Kenya's Amboseli National Park for 20 years, and in this DVD she tells the story of Echo, the grand matriarch of the herd. The viewer observes firsthand mating struggles, difficult births, a baby elephant's first steps, mischievous children, kidnappings, emotional reunions, and occasionally, the death of a member of the herd. 2008, BBC Warner

Elephant Memories
Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books
Nature and Environmental Book Review

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

Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya is home ground to some 600 elephants; this herd has been relatively free from human interference and was a major focus for field study. Moss follows one extended family through 13 years of good times and bad times, observing details of their daily lives. This captivating story of an animal family covers mating, migration, social behavior, births and deaths. The final chapter addresses the problems of elephant control and conservation. 2000, University of Chicago Press




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

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 ground-breaking theory of how elephants use seismic communication. Fascinated by the "particular way that elephants seemed to be listening with their feet," she soon realized that the elephants were communicating with low frequency sound waves traveling through the ground. Fascinating and sympathetic insights into elephant behavior. 2007, Free Press

The Fate of the ElephantThe Fate of the Elephant
Douglas H. Chadwick

Chadwick spent most of two years observing elephants in American zoos and throughout Africa, India and southeast Asia. He also followed the ivory trade, visiting carvers and shops in Tokyo, Delhi, Hong Kong and Bangkok. Chadwick visits an elephant reserve and a training camp in India; an expert on white elephants takes him to see the King's herd in Bangkok; in Malaysia, he watches a rescue team capture and relocate a wild elephant. In addition to telling many fascinating stories, Chadwick reminds us that the elephant's future is bleak: too many people, too little land and unstable goverments all threaten the animal's survival. In the 19th century, Africa boasted more than 10 million of the giant pachyderms; there are fewer than half a million today. 1994, Sierra Club Books

Secrets of the SavannaSecrets of the Savanna: Twenty-three Years in the African Wilderness Unraveling the Mysteries of Elephants and People
Mark James Owens and Cordelia Dykes Owens

Mark and Delia Owens, who have studied lions in the Kalahari Desert and elephants in Zambia and Mozambique now write more fully of their years in Zambia, in the mid-1980s. When they arrived at North Luangwa National Park, they found it had been abandoned to poachers. Corrupt local officials, and even the scouts who were hired to protect the park, were making huge profits while decimating the park's elephants. The couple began to work with local villagers, hiring people to build roads and start fish farms and helping with health care and education. They also continued their study of the elephants, documenting how the social structure changed when numbers were very low and how the survivors rebuilt their lives. The Owenses also saw strong parallels between human and elephant societies. 2007, Mariner Books

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