Elephant Reflections

By KARL AMMANN

Most of us know elephants only from the circus and the zoo. Happily, there isn’t a barking ringmaster to be found in Elephant Reflections, although some zebras, giraffes, and baboons make appearances. This breathtaking book of photographs by Karl Ammann shows African forest and savanna elephants as they live in nature — playing, walking, eating, bathing, mating — and the effect is mesmerizing. The collection includes instructive shots that illuminate elephant behavior as well as some more arty closeups, many of which make aesthetic studies of that improbably thick, wrinkly, cracked skin. In a gorgeous accompanying essay, Dale Peterson covers topics from elephant history to their habits and emotional ties (yes, they have them). He also writes passionately about the politics of the ivory trade and the conservation efforts it has stirred. Photographer Ammann contributes his own short piece, positing that the unregulated trade in elephant meat now drives more poaching in Central Africa than the trade in ivory. A perfect marriage of photograph and text (the two have collaborated once before, on Eating Apes), Elephant Reflections makes the case for safeguarding strange, intelligent creatures who, in Peterson’s words, should challenge “our sense of entitlement and superiority, and who should, indeed, caution us, tell us to be careful, keep still, have respect.”