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Book Title: Coming of Age with Elephants|
The author of the book: Joyce Poole
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 751 KB
City - Country: No data
Edition: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
Date of issue: August 1st 1996
ISBN 13: 9780340665596
Loaded: 2679 times
Reader ratings: 4.8
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This was an exceedingly interesting book on a number of levels. The first is that it's an absolutely outstanding book about elephants. In fact, it's the book I was looking for when I ended up reading Katy Payne's Silent Thunder: In the Presence of Elephants. That book left me feeling like the humans were too much the focus, and not enough was on the elephants. This book corrected that imbalance. Joyce Poole writes passionately about the elephants in a way that doesn't put herself in between us and them. We do learn quite a bit about Poole's personal life (more on that later) but primarily, this is a fascinating book about elephants. Poole steps back and lets the awe and wonder of these animals shine through, and it makes for a fascinating and compelling book.
She treats the reader to insights into the scientific world, describing how the elephants are named, and the cool card system she and Moss developed to help identify elephants based on their ear marks. While I could have used more information on how she estimates the age of an elephants, I got enough of that from Iain Douglas-Hamilton's book, so I will forgive her for that. The daily life and passing seasons and years of a field researchers life in Africa breathe from the book, and the elephants come to life with a satisfying solidity.
Poole's life is bound up with the elephants of Aboseli National Park in Kenya. She grew up partly in Africa, and she returned there as soon as she could and began studying the elephants with Cynthia Moss. As a behavioral ecologist, she studied the social and reproductive lives of these animals, and ended up making some very startling discoveries about musth in African elephants (the male hormone cycle) and about elephant communications. She acknowledges and highlights the collaborations she engaged in with other scientists, including Katy Payne, Cynthia Moss, and the illustrious Iain Douglas-Hamilton.
The human side of the story is just as fascinating as the elephant side, though played quieter and in a lower key. Poole fights through the death of her father, depression, sexual assaults, intimidation, discrimination, doomed relationships, a miscarriage, and paranoia during her time in Africa. Poole facing her issues, and how those issues and their solutions interwove with her life among the elephants, was fascinating to read. Along the way, she transitions from pure researcher, to conservationist, to someone actually in a position of the power of life or death over the elephants, trying to find a balance for humans and elephants to live together. At times, she finds herself signing orders for "problem" elephants to be "culled." Her struggles with these issues are honestly presented and extremely interesting to read.
The book is called "Coming of Age With Elephants," I believe, because along the way she fights most of her demons and at the end of the book seems to have achieved serenity and happiness at the age of 37. At the end of the book she is living with her daughter in a house she built with the help of Richard Leakey whose property hers abuts.
And that's where the book got tricky for me. The first line of the book has her flying over Africa with Richard Leakey. I'm always skeptical of name-dropping, particularly when that name is Leakey. However, Leakey is woven all throughout this story. He seems to be there for some of her most important emotional moments (finding peace, helping her heal from a miscarriage, building her house). He shows up repeatedly throughout the book (always as "Richard") described in glowing terms, and the reader begins to get a hunch that there may be more going on between them than friendship and mentoring. When she decides to have a child by herself, she lists all the options available to her, including sperm donors, a one-night stand, or having the child of a friend or lover she could never acknowledge as the father of her child. She states that she choose the right path for her, and then moves on without enlightening us further.
On the one hand, this is entirely her right. What she chooses to do with her body is her business, and no one else's. It doesn't get more private and personal than that. On the other hand, the suspicion inevitably left in the reader's mind is that her daughter is also Leakey's daughter. I would argue that some of this suspicion Poole must have planted on purpose. If she'd wanted to, she could have edited down some of the many (many) scenes with and references to Leakey in this book. If she'd chosen AI or a sperm donor of another stripe, I feel she would have told us. Instead this comes off as a subtle way to announce who the father of her child is.
And if that is the case, then things get a little more complex for me.
Poole and Leakey are two of the people who control some of the largest populations of African elephants left. Leakey is often in a supervisory role over Poole, and they frequently publish papers together. They both sit on the board of the Amboseli Elephant Trust. And I'm not sure at what point it becomes necessary to disclose linkages such as the one I'm suspecting (and, according to Outside Magazine, apparently I'm not the only one).
Honestly, it kind of shook me. I probably set scientists like these up on a pedestal, which is entirely inappropriate. They are humans, like all the other humans on the planet. So I'm going to have to sort out what, if anything, this kind of information means to me.
Anyway, I'm probably thinking about it way too much. Really, that's not the heart of the book at all. The elephants are, and they were magnificent. Poole is an engaging writer, and I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the behavior, ecology, or conservation of Africa's largest social mammal.
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