A stirring account by two dedicated and courageous conservationists.

SECRETS OF THE SAVANNA

TWENTY-THREE YEARS IN THE AFRICAN WILDERNESS UNRAVELING THE MYSTERIES OF ELEPHANTS AND PEOPLE

Bittersweet sequel to The Eye of the Elephant (1993), chronicling the authors’ efforts to eliminate elephant poaching in Zambia.

As related in their first book, Cry of the Kalahari (1984), the Owenses lived for seven years in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, studying black-maned lions. Expelled from Botswanna in the early 1980s, they relocated to Zambia’s North Luangwa National Park, where they developed a conservation project that “offered jobs to poachers, would-be poachers, and other villagers.” Over the next ten years, the couple provided loans and job training for small businesses such as beekeeping, grinding mills and midwifery. At the time their project began, 93 percent of the park’s elephants had been killed; the Owenses hoped to report a recovery of sorts once an ivory ban was in place. This volume opens in the early 1990s, with Delia and a former poacher measuring elephant tracks for a study intended to reveal what percentage of the group could breed and whether or not the population was growing. In the 1970s, before heavy poaching, 50 percent of the female elephants were of breeding age (more than 15 years old). Twenty years later, Delia discovered that only eight percent of the current female population was old enough to breed. So why were there so many infants in the group: Were the elephants, contrary to all previous studies, adopting orphaned calves? This mystery is paired with development profiles of micro-businesses in 14 different villages. The effort put into the conservation project by the Owenses, the villagers and others is inspiring. But the project’s success generated jealousy; just when its management could been taken over by local staff, so that Mark and Delia could devote themselves full-time to studying elephants, their lives were threatened by corrupt officials. Reluctantly, the couple left Zambia for the U.S., where they now work to help grizzly-bear populations recover in the Pacific Northwest.

A stirring account by two dedicated and courageous conservationists.

Pub Date: May 24, 2006

ISBN: 0-395-89310-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

THE BOOK OF EELS

OUR ENDURING FASCINATION WITH THE MOST MYSTERIOUS CREATURE IN THE NATURAL WORLD

An account of the mysterious life of eels that also serves as a meditation on consciousness, faith, time, light and darkness, and life and death.

In addition to an intriguing natural history, Swedish journalist Svensson includes a highly personal account of his relationship with his father. The author alternates eel-focused chapters with those about his father, a man obsessed with fishing for this elusive creature. “I can’t recall us ever talking about anything other than eels and how to best catch them, down there by the stream,” he writes. “I can’t remember us speaking at all….Because we were in…a place whose nature was best enjoyed in silence.” Throughout, Svensson, whose beat is not biology but art and culture, fills his account with people: Aristotle, who thought eels emerged live from mud, “like a slithering, enigmatic miracle”; Freud, who as a teenage biologist spent months in Trieste, Italy, peering through a microscope searching vainly for eel testes; Johannes Schmidt, who for two decades tracked thousands of eels, looking for their breeding grounds. After recounting the details of the eel life cycle, the author turns to the eel in literature—e.g., in the Bible, Rachel Carson’s Under the Sea Wind, and Günter Grass’ The Tin Drum—and history. He notes that the Puritans would likely not have survived without eels, and he explores Sweden’s “eel coast” (what it once was and how it has changed), how eel fishing became embroiled in the Northern Irish conflict, and the importance of eel fishing to the Basque separatist movement. The apparent return to life of a dead eel leads Svensson to a consideration of faith and the inherent message of miracles. He warns that if we are to save this fascinating creature from extinction, we must continue to study it. His book is a highly readable place to begin learning.

Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296881-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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