BOOKS: Elephants, Foxes, Frogs, Salmon & Whales

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 2000:

Elephants: Majestic Creatures of the Wild
Edited by Jeheskel Shoshani, Elephant Research Foundation
Checkmark Books (c/o Facts On File Inc., 11 Penn Plaza, NY 10001), 1992,
updated 2000. 240 pages, hardcover, illustrated. $39.95.
Foxes by David Macdonald
Frogs by David Badger, photos by John Netherton
Salmon by John M. Baxter
(Each 72 pages, paperback, illustrated. $16.95.)
Minke Whales by Rus Hoelzel & Jonathan Stern
(48 pages, paperback, illustrated. $12.95.)
All from WorldLife Library
(c/o Voyageur Press, 123 N. 2nd St., Stillwater, MN 55082), 2000.

There may be no more comprehensive
or more thoroughly illustrated anthology
about elephants than the latest updated edition
of Elephants: Majestic Creatures of the Wild.
Wild African elephants get the most attention,
but prehistoric elephants, the elephants of
India and China, and elephants in captivity
are also discussed in depth and detail.
Among the better-known of 40 contributors
gathered by editor Jeheskel Shoshani
are Save The Elephants founder Ian DouglasHamilton,
National Parks of South Africa
director Anthony Hall-Martin, two-time
Kenya Wildlife Service director Richard
Leakey, longtime World Wildlife Fund representative
Esmond Bradley Martin, Amboseli
Elephant Research Project director Cynthia
Moss and her associate Joyce Poole, David
Sheldrick Wildlife Trust chair Daphne
Sheldrick, and former Jacksonville Zoo director
Dale Tuttle.
Most make more than just a cameo
appearance, and some clash over elephant
conservation strategies. In that regard, it is
disappointing that Sheldrick is limited to two
pages about feeding and rehydrating orphaned
baby elephants. Although others echo her
belief that elephants should not be culled or
hunted, against others who seem to favor the
lethal “sustainable use” advocated by WWF,
Sheldrick gets no chance to contradict claims
that the deforestation and elephant dieback of
1970 at Tsavo National Park in Kenya should
have been prevented by killing elephants.
As widow of David Sheldrick, the
founding Tsavo warden, Daphne Sheldrick
argues from the perspective of having lived
almost all her life among wild elephants at
first Tsavo and now Nairobi National Park
that diebacks of dry forest and elephants are
part of a repetitive natural cycle––as also
occurred involving other great migrating herd
animals from Triceratops to bison.
Opponents of elephant training by
zoos and circuses may be disturbed to read
that most––and perhaps all––of the elephants
who have bred successfully in captivity were
ex-performers. Though elephant training is
often rough and the elephants are sometimes
compelled to behave in an unnatural manner,
there is increasing recognition among people
who care about elephants that a captive elephant
must be given mentally and physically
stimulating activities.
Much attention is given to musth,
the violent and seemingly insane condition of
a bull elephant who is ready to mate. Under
other circumstances the same bull may behave
like Chandrasekharan, a bull personally
known to Shoshani, who had been trained to
plant logs upright in pre-dug post holes. One
day Chandrasekharan balked, holding a heavy
log in mid-air with his trunk until his trainer
discovered and evicted a dog who had fallen
asleep at the cool bottom of a post hole.
Though children too may enjoy it,
and though it would be a great addition to
library collections, Elephants: Majestic
Creatures of the Wild may be excluded from
school and public libraries because of two
photos of elephants copulating.
The new Voyageur volumes on
Foxes, Frogs, Minke Whales, and S a l m o n
are less comprehensive yet sound overviews,
authored by individual experts instead of a
panel, and clearly designed to meet standard
school library specifications.
An unwritten spec for the school
library market is that controversial topics must
be handled in an uncontroversial way.
Thus David MacDonald, better
known as author of the soon-to-be-updated
Encyclopedia of Mammals, does not directly
condemn foxhunting in F o x e s. Instead, he
presents the arguments pro and con, evaluates
the science on either side, and thereby gently
but completely dismantles the pretext that foxhunting
is effective predator control.
Frogs author David Badger does not
inveigh against dissecting frogs in classrooms;
he does note the effect that frog-collecting for
dissection (and frogleg-eating) have on wild
populations, points out the availability of
computerized alternatives to dissection, and
goes on about introducing frogs by species, in
such a manner that one suspects few readers
will ever afterward want to kill any.
The content of Minke Whales would
probably not even be in a volume by itself if
Japanese and Norway did not continue to kill
minkes by the hundred. It is far from an antiwhaling
treatise, but Rus Hoelzel and
Jonathan Stern make the case that determining
the status of whale populations is still an inexact
science, and that any attempt to set whaling
quotas will involve high-risk guessing.
Only S a l m o n, which certainly
favors conservation, makes no argument
against any human exploitation of the topic
species. Author John M. Baxter accepts without
question the mainstream view that salmon
are of interest because people eat them––and
occasionally leaps out of scientific objectivity
with remarks such as, “There is an urgent
need for a radical approach to commercial
fisheries management.”
Whether commercial fishers will
rally to try to toss Baxter out of school

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