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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Elephant Scientist, written by Caitlin O'Connell and Donna M Jackson. Photographs by Caitlin O'Connell and Timothy Rodwell. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2011. $13.99 ages 10 and up

"Caitlin especially enjoyed watching elephant families interact at the waterhole, where they'd gather during the hot, dry days. "Most elephants grow up with a mother and a grandmother, a few aunts, a couple of sisters, a brother or two ... "
This paperback edition of the above title introduces readers to Caitlin O'Connell and her team of scientists who have strengthened our understanding of and admiration for elephants. It shows readers just exactly what research in action looks like. That research has put the spotlight on ways these majestic animals communicate with one another. By showing her readers how she set up the research program that began with observations and questions, she helps them understand that learning one thing often leads to more questions, and further learning.

She includes a detailed study of the cells that comprise an elephant's foot and trunk in an attempt to discover the ways they use ground vibrations to make decisions, to protect and to pass messages from one herd to another. In fact, the team used a variety of sounds to see the effect they would have on the studied herd. Elephants were being killed in a fight to keep them out of farmer's crops, as they were destroying everything the farmer needed to sustain the family. Caitlin wondered if, by learning more about the ways these gentle beasts passed messages, they might be able to send their own messages to keep the herds away from those fields.

As is common in the Scientists in the Field series, this research report from Namibia is accompanied by brilliant color photographs with informative captions, and provide interested readers with a close look at the elder elephants as they care for their young and wander the lands these elephants call home. The research camp is amazing to see!

Along with a list for further reading, a glossary, selected source notes, and an index, we are invited to visit It is a website set up to show us ways to ensure that elephants thrive and survive in the wild.  
And here is Caitlin herself in a TED Talk about family structure:

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