PACK, BAND, AND COLONY: The World of Social Animals by Judith & Herbert Kohl Kohl

PACK, BAND, AND COLONY: The World of Social Animals

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Three species of social animals; some similarities and differences among the animals and between animals' behavior and humans'; and the demands, joys, and limitations of observing animals: these are the interrelated subjects of the Kohls' engaging discourse on some aspects of natural history that appeal to them--personal attraction being, as they emphasize, a necessary starting point for scientific work. (""Edward O. Wilson just happened to like bugs."") After an introductory account of their own largely thwarted attempts to observe ravens, the Kohls focus on three animals--the wolf, the sifaka lemur of Madagascar, and the mound-building macrotermes termite found in Tanzania--which they haven't observed but which they describe as if their readers were the observers. They encourage ""you"" to imagine tracking through an exotic dark jungle of Madagascar, where 95 percent of the plants and animals are unique to the island; and the observations on the lemur's cohesive, affectionate group life are in the form of a field notebook that ""you"" might have written (though this section is actually based on the reports of lemur observer Alison Jolly). In the wolf chapter the Kohls draw parallels between the cooperative hunting methods, practical knowledge, and affectionate relationships of wolves and humans. Throughout, they emphasize that humans can't run with wolves, fly with ravens, get into beehives, and so on, but we can extend our senses with radio collars, microscopes, and other devices. The limitations are most notable with the termites, whom we can't observe without disturbing. Thus, ""your"" first-person discoveries about termites are less fruitful, but you learn something of their caste-system--and how their type-cast society differs from those of the featured mammals--from reading of a number of different studies. The you-are-there devices used here are artificial compared to the genuinely reorienting umwelt experience of the Kohls' The View from the Oak (1977), and the good-will message is a little soft in spots. Still, the Kohls do succeed disarmingly in enclosing authors, readers, observers, and subjects in the same time-space frame.

Pub Date: July 18th, 1983
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux