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Silent Thunder: In the Presence of Elephants…

Silent Thunder: In the Presence of Elephants

by Katy Payne

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If I'd read Brittany's review, http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/94523133, I'd have shelved this as 'not for me.' Unfortunately, I was so excited by the bare premise as mentioned in the wonderful [b:The Parrot's Lament, and Other True Tales of Animal Intrigue, Intelligence, and Ingenuity|10476|The Parrot's Lament, and Other True Tales of Animal Intrigue, Intelligence, and Ingenuity|Eugene Linden|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1309286843s/10476.jpg|581930] that I picked this up from my library without preview. So I did read some of it. And even more than 'too many humans' as Brittany says, there's too much spirituality, too much over-sincere reverence.

Maybe I could have gotten past that, even, if I found it well-written, engaging, or even coherent. It was none of the above. And the final straw that pisses me off: Payne proselytizes a dream in which an elephant says to her: We did not reveal this to you so you would tell other people." So what does she do? She publishes her discovery in both an academic journal and in the New York Times. Sacred trust? Pfft."
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 5, 2016 |
I debated back and forth throughout this book. Portions of it were so fascinating I was counting the minutes until I could share the information with friends, and other parts of it dragged on so long I, I'll admit, skipped a few pages here and there... Wish there had been more about the animals and less about her personal life. It was well-written, but not my cup of tea. ( )
1 vote KRaySaulis | Aug 13, 2014 |
I picked this one up on a whim as I wandered through the shelves of animal books at the library, partially because it looked interesting, and partially because it looked like the shortest animal book there (and I already had a pile of other books to read). After reading it... wow. I think I would have seriously missed out if I skipped past this one, and I plan on tracking down my own copy to own.

Payne is first and foremost a marine biologist, in the sense that she spent a significant amount of time researching and studying whale communications. She's an expert on echolocation, specifically the various frequencies whales use and the ins-and-outs of the correlation between communication & behavior. So, naturally it seems a bit odd that she would be writing a book about... elephants?!

Apparently one day, Payne visited a zoo and became curious about the way elephants communicate. After some observation, she formed some theories about elephant communication - centered around, you guessed it, echolocation and frequencies beyond human hearing - and decided to conduct some tests. The rest, as they say, is history.

Payne was only the second person to suggest elephants could communicate over vast distances, and it was her work that truly paved the way to a better understanding of these magnificent creatures. The first half of this book is packed with incredible anecdotes about elephant behavior (most of which I repeated to anyone who would listen, I was so amazed) and information about elephant society & structures. I raced through the first half of the book, mesmerized...

But when the second half hit, I slowed down. While still very important to read, the material becomes very heavy in the sense that difficult issues are addressed like poaching, culling, and the inevitable difficulties with working in an African country where the local governments aren't always as cooperative as researchers would like (not to mention the corruption in some places). Payne details several meetings with governments and conservation groups where drastic decisions are made that affect the elephant populations, and not necessarily for the better. After reading some of these sections, I had to put the book down and walk away for a bit, just to let it sit before continuing. Still, it was important to read, and I'm glad I did.

I'd also have to say that the second half of the book dealt not only with the elephant studies, but also with the relationships between the people of the area, the researchers, and the animals (elephants, lions, et al). There are brief forays into 'spiritual' observations about the people (and their traditions) and several dreams that Payne has which relate to the animals, which seem slightly out of place, but I didn't think they distracted too much from the core of the book. If anything, I thought it slightly intriguing that a scientist would include her spiritual experiences in a book like this, as strange as it was.

On the whole, I'm very glad I read this book. I learned so much more about elephants than I previously knew, and I have a greater understanding of what people go through when they dedicate their lives to observing and studying a species in the wild. My favorite part of the book was definitely the inclusion of behavioral anecdotes, which were fascinating - I'm inspired to read more about African wildlife, and would be interested in reading more about elephants specifically in the future. ( )
1 vote dk_phoenix | Jun 16, 2009 |
Interesting study of elephant behavior and the cultures surrounding elephant poaching and culling. The author is an acoustic biologist (also studied whales) who studied elephants in zoo settings first, then went to Africa - Zimbabwe - and mostly studied their communication behaviors. Enlightening and heartbreaking. She also tells a bit of her own interesting personal story.

I wish the book included photos of the animals, people and places Payne wrote about. ( )
2 vote teelgee | Jun 17, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0140285962, Paperback)

Naturalist and bioacoustics researcher Katy Payne stood near an elephant cage at a zoo and felt a strange "throb and flutter" in the air. When she later realized that the feeling was very like that caused by the lowest notes of a pipe organ, she embarked on a journey of scientific and personal discovery that took her to Africa to study how the huge mammals communicate. For years, she lived close to the elephants she loved, getting to know individuals and describing their long-distance infrasound "conversations." After her fifth such expedition, one third of the elephant population she was studying was killed in a planned cull by the Zimbabwean government. Whether or not you accept Payne's hypothesis that elephants are extraordinarily intelligent and capable of communicating with each other and with other species (including humans), you will find her descriptions of the animals compelling and compassionate. Her grief at the loss of her elephant friends is palpable, and she uses it to utmost effect in decrying not only the ivory trade, but the way in which humans have decided to live on the planet. --Therese Littleton

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:32 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Scientific discovery is not always the result of a careful accumulation of data or a measured consideration of the facts. Sometimes it takes a leap of imagination. The author, a naturalist and conservationist, took just such a leap and made an amazing discovery about how elephants communicate. And that was only the beginning of her adventure. In 1984, she visited the elephants at Washington Park Zoo in Portland, Oregon. She had been studying whale songs for the last fifteen years, and she was curious about the ways that elephants, the largest living land mammals, communicated with each other. What was observed in the first week seemed, at the time, to be little cause for scientific excitement. But on her flight home, she flashed back to a childhood experience of singing in the church choir. Suddenly she realized that she had felt, in the presence of the elephants, a deep throbbing in the air just like the lowest notes of the church organ. She and two colleagues were soon able to show that elephants use powerful infrasound, sound pitched too low for the human ear to hear, in communication. This "silent thunder" allows elephants to interact over long distances. This was the basis of the discovery of infrasonic communication among elephants. The author and her colleagues went on to do important field research on elephant communication in Kenya, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. But in 1991 the peaceful rhythms of their work were violently interrupted by a cull, a planned killing, that destroyed five of the elephant families they were studying. This destruction convinced her that all life is sacred, and she determined to challenge the philosophies that support culling. This work is a natural history rich in ponderings about the animal world and how humans participate in it. It is also a passionate story of the author's own spiritual quest as she turns an observant eye on her own role in this world and honors the holistic perspective of her indigenous friends, who became her teachers in Zimbabwe.… (more)

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