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Silent Thunder: In the Presence of Elephants

by Katy Payne

Library Journal : In this mixture of personal saga, social commentary, and scientific research, Payne researches elephants' use of infrasound (sound below human hearing) to communicate over long distances. She describes the research she undertook in Kenya and in Zimbabwe, a country that condones elephant culling. Dreadfully, most of the elephants she studied there were destroyed in a 1991 cull. She found this extremely distressful, withdrawing from her own research for a time. Upon returning to Zimbabwe, she faced more sorrow; three of her research associates had been killed in a plane crash. Most of the events of the book happened prior to 1992; perhaps just now Payne is able to write of them. Peppered with commentary, criticism, and catharsis, her book is neither pure natural history nor pure autobiography. Still, it offers interesting background reading for elephant followers. Acceptable for larger public libraries and large natural history collections.

Nancy J. Moeckel, Miami Univ. Lib., Oxford, Distributed by Syndetic Solutions Inc. Terms

Publishers Weekly : "I was hearing faint sounds that might have been overtones of stronger sounds that the elephants, but not I, could hear." In a chronicle that effectively blends memoir with the drama of scientific discovery, Payne (Elephants Calling), an acoustic biologist at Cornell, describes her role in the discovery of infrasonic communication between elephants. As she does so, she recounts her 13 years' study of African elephants--observing their social and family structures and behaviors, including the digging of wells. A scientist's respect for the elephants, "my gray friends," and for the native scouts informs her work. Payne writes, "You appreciate the value of silence when you watch elephants at night.... Every animal in the herd listens when the herd is listening. To use silence so well: if I could choose for people one attribute of elephants, I'd choose this." Payne can be passionate, especially regarding the issues of poaching and the harvesting of ivory, and she is convinced that any decision about ivory harvesting must take into account both the experience of elephants themselves as well as the historic relations between indigenous peoples and wild animals. Payne believes that "[i]n such a world animals reveal things to each other, and even occasionally to people like me: their attention to us is commensurate with ours to them." This book will make a wonderful addition to the library of any animal lover or of anyone fascinated by intra- and interspecies communication. Maps and drawing by Laura Payne.

Copyright 1998 Cahners Business Information, Inc. Distributed by Syndetic Solutions Inc. Terms