The chronological tale of the Elephant Listening Project, from precursory work in 1984 to its ongoing projects—all involving the sounds made by elephants.
Although coyly headlining its introduction, chapters, and bibliography with musical terminology, the text is generally straightforward. Readers learn from the introduction (“overture”) that scientists “eavesdrop on endangered African forest elephants not only to figure out what they’re saying but also to save them from extinction.” It goes on to discuss forest elephants as a keystone species. Next, there is a shift to the tales of Katy Payne and Andrea Turkalo, two dedicated researchers whose individual work with elephants and sounds led to the joint venture of the Elephant Listening Project in 1999, including working together at a rainforest research compound in the Central African Republic. Payne, Turkalo, and many of their team members present white, but local Bayaka people were invaluable in roles such as trackers, research assistants, and climbers to place the receivers. (Ground devices fare badly around curious elephants.) Currently, new conservationists, including some Bayaka, continue the work begun by the women. The text abounds with accessible—if sometimes prosaic—explanations of sound, spectrograms, technological advances, and more. Charts, graphs, and colorful photographs supplement the text. The subtitle is a bit misleading; only the fourth and fifth chapters discuss, minimally, “how listening helps conservation.” Grim facts are balanced by hope and faith in the next generation.
Fascinating for earnest conservationists. (Nonfiction. 9-14)