In an account that is finally a philosophical and political meditation on wildlife, a biologist studies the long-distance,...


SILENT THUNDER: In the Presence of Elephants

In an account that is finally a philosophical and political meditation on wildlife, a biologist studies the long-distance, nearly imperceptible rumblings of elephants and ponders the fate of Africa's elephant herds. Payne, a bioacoustics researcher at Cornell University, recorded the habits of African elephants living in Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Kenya for more than a decade, beginning in the mid-1980s, observing the complex interactions of the matriarchal family groups and the courtship and mating of bull elephants. But most remarkable was her work on infrasonic communication among the elephants, very low frequency sounds, below the threshold of human hearing, that carry for over two miles. In this endeavor, Payne got up close and personal with the herds to record the sounds on tape for later analysis, sometimes putting herself in dicey situations--and not only with elephants, as she frequented lion habitat as well. Becoming more salient as the narrative proceeds are Payne's concerns over the unrestrained slaughter of Africa's herds by ivory poachers, who killed 87 percent of Kenya's elephants and half of all the elephants on the continent during the 1980s. Later sections of the book hinge on the issue of conservation and protection from poaching, in addition to efforts by southern African countries to protect their herds from poachers by culling, opening up a controlled ivory trade. Payne records in detail the dimensions and monetary value of the tusks of many elephants she tracked and taped. Payne, a vociferous opponent of culling, notes that elephants need the accumulated wisdom of their elders in order to maintain functioning communities. Her deep-feeling profiles of some of the people working as trackers and scouts with her in the national parks add merit to her suggestions for conservation. Not just a book on elephants and their surprisingly active verbal lives, but an informed discussion on the policies and future of man and beast in Africa.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1998


Page Count: 288

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1998

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