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The struggles and celebrations of nature’s largest land creatures—with more than 250 spectacular full-color photos by Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell
An Elephant’s Life provides a unique and fascinating immersion into the world of the African elephant, told by a leading field biologist who has been researching and photographing these animals in their natural habitat for nearly two decades. Here, for the first time, readers get a fuller picture of elephant society cast in a broader context, including the life of the male elephant in all its high drama.
Merging the visual traditions of photojournalism and the nature documentary with the narrative voice of such classics as Jane Goodall’s Chimpanzees of Gombe, this large-format, full-color volume of photo essays provides a uniquely rich understanding of what it’s like to grow up and live within the complexities of elephant society at every turn of the page. Readers will experience the frustrations and anguish of the coming-of-age male struggling to leave his family, witness the constant vigilance a matriarch exerts to protect her family, and feel the drama of a dominant male trying to hold onto power during times of peace and times of social upheaval. Like Wolf Empire (Lyons Press, 2007), An Elephant’s Life is an intimate portrait of a beloved and fascinating species.
bulls, as illustrated by Willie and Tim’s meditative Tai Chi spar in the sequence of photos on pages 138–39. Such ritual is evident in many all-male human societies as well, from fraternity hazings to boot-camp initiations to religious ceremonies. Ritualized dominance behaviors within these bonded male groups are thought to formalize status relationships, where acts of subordination toward dominant individuals may serve to preempt aggression and thus generate greater tolerance among group
communicate over larger distances than previously thought; it also meant they had an additional channel of communication via signals detected through their feet and trunks. In the late 1990s, while finishing my PhD research at the University of California, Davis, I received a Rotary International Vocational Fellowship that enabled me to return to Namibia to test some of my ideas and to build on my previous research into elephant communication, as well as to search for ways to reduce
interaction ends more cordially than expected given both of their feisty temperaments and Beckham’s hormonal status. Perhaps Kevin knew he should be on his best behavior. In an effort to access fresh water directly from the spring, Beckham inspects our leaky water pump that we had very recently fixed. With the force he is using during his inspection, it appears that he intends to remove the whole barrel containing the pump. Fortunately, he stopped pushing before actually breaking the pump.
stroll in at about 10:30 a.m. On busy bull days, visits tend to occur on and off throughout the day, with the longer sessions lasting up to several hours and sometimes involving more than twenty bulls. On less busy days, there may only be two to three bulls coming in to drink over the course of the day. In and around these elephant data collection sessions, team members rotate through a roster of kitchen and camp duties, and those on lunch duty juggle between their research responsibilities and
certain individuals is obtained by collecting fecal samples in which cells from the colon have sloughed off and DNA can be extracted (bottom left). Students Andrew Wicklund and Mary Thurber (above) study how hormones from known fecal samples degrade over time. In addition to the research area on the second floor of the tower at base camp, there is a small cement bunker (shown in the foreground here) that allows for closer observation of the elephants. In the safety of the tower, I show my