The Astonishing Elephant By Shana Alexander (2000-05-16)
- Publish Date: 2000-06-29
- Binding: Hardcover
- Author: Shana Alexander;S. Alexander
When Shana Alexander, a staff writer at Life magazine, won the right to name her own assignments, her first choice was a week-by-week account of a zoo elephant's pregnancy, believed to be the first in the history of captive elephants. Finally, in 1962, after twenty-two months, the baby was born, and Alexander's story was proudly trumpeted on Life's cover. Ever since, between other projects, she has made writing and learning about elephants a special interest.
In The Astonishing Elephant, Shana Alexander tells a story filled with drama, humor, sorrow, greed, sex, science--and surprising human interest. Physiologically, elephants are unique--entirely different from all other mammals. Yet, since antiquity, observers have agreed that the elephant is the animal most akin to man.
Today both species of elephant--Africans and Asians--stand on the brink of extinction. Hope is arising, however, from a new generation of young American scientists, many of them women. Female zoologists and biologists have led the field in new findings about elephant ecology, family and sexual patterns, and the animals' continual communication by ultrasound, inaudible to human ears.
The Astonishing Elephant also reveals, for the first time, a hair-raising story of elephant genocide : in the years between the Civil War and World War I, all male elephants in U.S. circuses were stealthily killed--shot, poisoned, drowned, and even hanged. The reason was musth, a periodic condition of mature males that renders them uncontrollable. So, gradually, only female elephants--now with masculine names--were put on parade, with no one the wiser.
Most important, The Astonishing Elephant details a decade of heartbreaking trial and error and eventual triumph as scientists have tried to learn how to breed elephants via artificial insemination.
Shana Alexander has traveled the world for this story. She has visited India and Africa, interviewing the brave researchers who are devoting their lives to the oversize mysteries of elephants. She has looked back in history, detailing the elephant's importance in every major religion, in work, in warfare, and in its position--now threatened--at the heart of every circus, from Rome to Ringling.
The Astonishing Elephant contains everything old and new that a reader has ever wondered about elephants, told in the stylish prose for which Shana Alexander is celebrated.