Elephant Talk: The Surprising Science of Elephant Communication
By: Ann Downer
Publisher: Twenty-First Century Books
Publication Date: January 2011
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
Review Date: May 2011
An elephant calf walks closely behind his mother, already closely observing her and others in the herd as he begins to learn their language. Elephant language, or "elephant talk," can be expressed in many ways from body language, a wide array of calls, and even infrasound communication. As young calves mature they continue to glean behavioral cues from their "close-knit family" in order to survive and thrive in their herds. For many years scientists have been hard at work gathering information on the way elephants communicate with one another. In this book you will be able to "listen" and look at the African savanna elephant, the African forest elephant, and the Asian elephant, and walk right along beside scientists as they attempt to uncover the complex ways that elephants communicate with one another. You'll be able to get a glimpse at elephants who remain in captivity such as Daisy, and others who remain in the wild.
Elephants have been by our side for thousands of years as they joined us "in religious festivals, guarded temples, and presided over weddings." They have gone to battle with us and have assisted us in building, but now are facing a battle of their own. With approximately 600,000 elephants remaining in the world, they now face extinction in the wild if poaching continues at its rapid pace. The more we can learn about "elephant talk," the more we may be able to help them help themselves. Observation has shown the different life stages of the elephant from its helpless beginning to toddlerhood, teens, and adulthood and how they absorb and learn language. Learning about elephants and their social networking has also helped scientists learn about language development. You will learn many things about their social behavior from how many generations coexist, to how they form alliances, to how they use tools.
The trumpeting call of the elephant is perhaps the most well known form of communication, but this is "only one of more than seventy vocalizations." Scientists who have been observing elephants for many years were mystified by some of their behavior. Take for example, on December 26, 2004, when the elephant populations fled "to higher ground in the moments before the tidal waves struck" after the devastating earthquake. How did they know the tsunami was on its way? You will learn about one theory Caitlin O'Connell-Rodwell proposed when she observed elephant's "synchronized freezing" and tiptoeing. You will also learn about infrasound, elephant physiology, their fluttering foreheads, their body language cues, numerous scientific observations, the appalling practice of poaching, and you'll learn many other interesting facets of the elephants' lives and how they talk to us and each other.
The integration of elephant verbal and nonverbal cues such as body language, socialization, and invisible ways of communication such as infrasound, bring this animal to life in a way that I haven't seen done in a book for this age group. We learn of the work of numerous scientists and scientific studies throughout these pages. Many young people have heard of animals such as Koko, but this book shows the elephant as a creature who can be just as beloved. There is an excellent chapter on human-elephant relationships that touches on animal rights, a topic that is of high interest to many students. There is an excellent selection of appealing photographs scattered throughout the book as well as several informative sidebars. For example, there is a very interesting one on how elephants can use "visual and chemical cues" to ferret out predators, including those of the human persuasion. In the back of the book there is an index, a listing of organizations assisting elephants, an "Elephant Dictionary," a selected bibiography, and additional recommended book and website resources to explore. This is a Junior Literary Guild Selection.
Quill says: This is a fascinating overview about elephant communication skills and how they "talk" to the world.