AMONG THE ELEPHANTS by Iain & Oria Douglas-Hamilton


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The Douglas-Hamiltons may be familiar to educational TV viewers as ""the family that lives with elephants""--an experience that began in 1965 as part of the research for Iain's doctoral thesis at Oxford and expanded three years later to include an African-born French-Italian photographer named Oria Rocco (and eventually their two children). Iain's project involved keeping accurate records on the elephants of Manyara Park in northern Tanzania; with the help of the park staff he built a cottage at an elephant watering-place and set out to track their movements. In addition to the scholarly value of the work, he hoped to shed light on the different policy options of African governments in managing elephant populations--should the size of herds be left to regulate itself, or should man anticipate Malthusian effects by systematically thinning herds when food supply is threatened? At the book's end such questions remain problematical but the Douglas-Hamiltons have made some important and moving breakthroughs in human understanding of these beautiful animals. Contrary to earlier belief, elephants' social patterns are almost entirely matriarchal and based on astonishingly stable family units which the authors call ""kinship groups."" A senior cow assumes and retains leadership of a large group formed from several subgroups of about ten, who travel together in search of food within defined territorial limits, lain and Oria, narrating in turn, earnestly convey the sense of mutual concern, loyalty, and tenderness that dominates the huge creatures' relationships. It may not be too farfetched to insist, as they do, that man has much to learn from this mode of social organization.

Pub Date: June 4th, 1975
Publisher: Viking