PORTRAITS IN THE WILD: Behavior Studies of East African Mammals by Cynthia Moss

PORTRAITS IN THE WILD: Behavior Studies of East African Mammals

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If you've ever wondered why zebras have stripes, how giraffes can raise their heads without fainting, or how baby elephants figure out how to use their trunks, you can stop wondering--or wonder at a more informed level. Moss, a naturalist who has worked on the Douglas-Hamiltons' Lake Manyara elephant project (see Among the Elephants, p. 415), lucidly summarizes the results of the major studies which have been done in the wild (chiefly the Serengeti and environs) on some fifteen animals including six species of antelope and three of big cats. Her approach is systematic without being rigid; she surveys each animal's physical characteristics, social organization, feeding and territorial habits, reproductive patterns, yearly movements, and daily routine, quietly laying to rest a great many misconceptions. For example, baboon society bears almost no resemblance to the jealous, competitive male hierarchy depicted in Ardrey's Territorial Imperative; recent studies show a remarkably stable troop organization based on the relationships of the females, and male rankings do not affect the complex factors of kinship and friendship that keep the troop together. Moss has a gift for showing the larger logic of the odd detail; small facts and broad processes are built up into a coherent picture of each animal as an integral part of a complex, imperfectly understood ecological dynamic. Over each ""portrait"" hangs the question of how much longer the animal will be around before, say, the cheetah's hunting habits are irrevocably disrupted by tourists speeding through game preserves, or large-scale poaching further decimates the already depleted rhino populations.

Pub Date: Oct. 29th, 1975
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin