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The Elephant’s Secret Sense

The Hidden Life of the Wild Herds of Africa

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.
 
“I was transported by the author’s superbly sensuous descriptions of her years spent studying the animals. . . . Conjures a high-class nature documentary film in prose.”—Steven Poole, Guardian
 
“A ride as rough and astonishing as the roads of the African floodplain.”—Joan Keener, Entertainment Weekly
 
“A successful combination of science and soulfulness, explaining her groundbreaking theory of how elephants use seismic communication. . . . O’Connell’s account is studded with sympathetic insights and well-turned phrases.”—Publishers Weekly
 
“This fascinating book reads like a fast-paced detective story of a scientific discovery and adventure set in contemporary Africa. . . . By the end, O’Connell takes her rightful place among the leading biographers of the African elephant.”—Iain Douglas-Hamilton, author of Among the Elephants
 
 

264 pages | 12 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2008

Biological Sciences: Behavioral Biology

Reviews

“Our author sleeps in blinds, pores through elephant dung, darts and collars elephant matriarchs, puts zoo elephants on force plates to send vibrations to their feet, even cuts up a frozen elephant to search for vibration-sensitive cells in its toes and heels. . . . A compelling memoir of how a small but fascinating biological discovery is made, from a momentary observation to a fully presented theory.”

Anthony Doerr | Boston Globe

“I was transported by the author’s superbly sensuous descriptions of her years spent studying the animals. . . . Conjure[s] a high-class nature documentary film in prose.”

Steven Poole | Guardian

“A ride as rough and astonishing as the roads of the African floodplain.”

Joan Keener | Entertainment Weekly

“A successful combination of science and soulfulness, explaining her groundbreaking theory of how elephants use seismic communication. . . . [O’Connell’s] account is studded with sympathetic insights and well-turned phrases.”

Publishers Weekly

“This fascinating book reads like a fast-paced detective story of a scientific discovery and adventure set in contemporary Africa. . . . By the end, [O’Connell] takes her rightful place among the leading biographers of the African elephant.”

Iain Douglas-Hamilton, author of Among the Elephants

"Effective communicators of science are scarce and O’Connell provides a valuable contribution in the form of a realistic and compelling description of international field work. Those interested in Africa or elephants in general will be rewarded."

Jason Munshi-South | Journal of Mammalian Evolution

Table of Contents

1 Listening Through Limbs

2 The Caprivi

3 Wet Season Elephant Wars

4 Making Sense of the Elephant

5 Tiptoeing Elephants

6 The Dry Season

7 The Mother of All Elephants

8 Elephants on the Move

9 Cracking the Elephant Morse Code

10 Ivory Ghosts

11 The Wheels of Conservation

12 Donna the Dancer

13 Back to Mushara in Style

14 Keeping an Ear to the Ground

15 Wynona’s Last Stand

16 The Gentlemen’s Club

17 The Sails of Mushara

Acknowledgments

Index

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