Elephant Destiny: Biography Of An Endangered Species In Africa

Elephant Destiny: Biography Of An Endangered Species In Africa

by Martin Meredith

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For thousands of years, the majestic elephant has roamed the African continent, as beloved by man as it has been preyed upon. But centuries of exploitation and ivory hunting have taken their toll: now, as wars and poachers continue to ravage its habitat, as disease and political strife deflect attention from its plight, the African elephant faces imminent


For thousands of years, the majestic elephant has roamed the African continent, as beloved by man as it has been preyed upon. But centuries of exploitation and ivory hunting have taken their toll: now, as wars and poachers continue to ravage its habitat, as disease and political strife deflect attention from its plight, the African elephant faces imminent extinction.

What will become of these magnificent beasts? As the elephant's future looms ever darker, Martin Meredith's concise and richly illustrated biography traces the elephant's history from the first ivory expeditions of the Egyptian pharaohs 2500 years ago to today, exploring along the way the indelible imprint the African elephant has made in art, literature, culture, and society. He shares recent extraordinary discoveries about the elephant's sophisticated family and community structure and reveals the remarkable ways in which elephants show compassion and loyalty to each other.

Elegant, illuminating, and urgent, Elephant Destiny offers a beautiful and important tribute to one of earth's most magisterial creatures at the very moment it threatens to vanish from being.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this solid introduction to the world of elephants, Meredith covers all the major topics including biology, social behavior, recent scientific discoveries, ancient elephantology, the devastating ivory trade, the truth about elephant graveyards and the insistent threat of extinction. Meredith demonstrates that human involvement in elephantine affairs has been disastrous to the pachyderm: the quest for ivory had caused the extinction of all Syrian herds by 500 B.C.; many ancient cultures took elephants to war; and Romans used the animals in their blood sports. Much of the book follows the history of the European exploitation of Africa's three treasures: gold, slaves and ivory. The quantities of murdered elephants and descriptions of killing methodologies are deeply affecting. Once Meredith's history reaches modern times, the shock of population counts is astounding in comparison with the numbers of elephants that roamed free in the past. Aristotle's treatise on the animals' anatomy, behavior, diet and reproduction was the beginning of a long line of interest, but only recently has science uncovered the answers to mysteries such as how separate herds coordinate movement over many miles. Meredith's primer on elephantine matters will help turn a reader's casual interest into a fascination. (Apr.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Meredith's biography of an endangered species in Africa begins with a study in 1966 of the effects of elephants in Manyara in the Great Rift Valley. Nearly 500 elephants were living in an area of about 35 square miles. They had begun to rip the bark from the park's acacia trees, thus destroying the woodlands. As a result of this study, scientists knew exactly what happened to these animals in the 1970s and '80s, when poachers armed with automatic weapons decimated many of Africa's elephant populations. Between 1979 and 1989 the total elephant population in Africa was halved. Meredith's history of the species begins in the 3rd millennium BC in Egypt, and then follows it through the Greek and Roman cultures, when elephants were used in warfare. An African elephant arrived in England in 1254. Humans continued to hunt and kill the animals in Africa. Vivid descriptions of these events are filled with noise and gore. Ivory was in demand during the Victorian Age, used for riding whips, piano keys, buttons, jewelry, knitting needles and doorknobs. Meredith gives readers the elephant's genealogy, family life, mating rituals, physiology, vocal repertoire, attitudes toward death of others of its species, and finally the elephant's dismal future. Recommended for its research, compassion, and warning for the future if action is not taken to preserve this species. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2001, PublicAffairs, 244p. illus. bibliog. index., Ages 15 to adult.
—Janet Julian
Library Journal
When Meredith learned that well-known and highly respected field researchers such as Cynthia Moss (Elephant Memories) and Iain and Oria Douglas-Hamilton (Among the Elephants) had recorded actual family histories of elephants, he was intrigued. A British journalist who has been writing about Africa for decades (e.g., Mugabe: Power and Plunder in Zimbabwe), he was no longer satisfied knowing elephants as a species-he wanted to know them as individuals and family units. In preparing this book, he traveled extensively throughout the continent, drawing on the works of the scientists he admired. Elephant Destiny is his attempt to broaden our understanding of elephants and demonstrate the survival challenges they face. As he points out, unless something is done soon, it is very likely that elephants will disappear from the wild in the near future. Through exceptionally readable text, as well as line drawings and color photographs, Meredith takes the reader on a journey from humanity's first contact with elephants to today's poaching and the illegal trade in ivory. Meredith illustrates how the effects of colonialism in Africa-poverty, wars, and disease-have all but destroyed the environment elephants need to survive. First published in Britain, his book is highly recommended for most natural history collections because of the depth of the author's research and experience.-Edell M. Schaefer, Brookfield P.L., WI Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A compilation of thoughts, facts, and literature on the African elephant, from a former journalist and scholar who has written extensively about the continent. Elephants once ranged over all of Africa; now only five countries there have populations of more than 50,000. Meredith (Coming to Terms, 2000, etc.) begins 5,000 years ago in Egypt, whose pharaohs hunted elephants for their ivory until the climate became too arid to support such herds. They then turned to Syria, eventually driving the small Asian elephant population to extinction. The author next profiles Alexander the Great, who was so impressed by the Persians’ use of armored elephants that he incorporated them into his own army after 331 b.c. But by 46 b.c., the African elephant’s primary use was for entertainment: Romans pitted gladiators against dozens of elephants at a time, and the demand for this brutal spectacle eventually rendered the North African herds all but extinct. Over centuries, the African elephant population suffered losses and made gains until the great ivory trade began in the mid-1400s. Due to the lucrative market in piano keys and billiard balls (among other items), by 1760 elephant herds in southern Africa were much diminished, and by 1880 they had vanished. In East and West Africa, the same story was playing out. At this point, Meredith focuses on recent scientific studies, notably the work of Iain and Oria Douglas-Hamilton, Cynthia Moss, Joyce Poole, and Katherine Payne. He’s an engaging writer, and his synopses should lead readers to the original works themselves. He concludes with the great ivory wars of the 1970s and ’80s, naming Hong Kong and Japan as the major culprits. Now that many countries havejoined the ban on ivory, some elephant populations may make a comeback, but their situation is perilous at best. The author provides a nice overview of the troubles facing the African elephant, but no original research at all. Serviceable, though nothing new. (8 pages b&w photos, 32 illustrations)

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Meet the Author

Martin Meredith has spent much of his life writing about Africa: first as a foreign correspondent for the London Observer and Sunday Times, then as a research fellow at St. Antony's College, Oxford, and now as an independent author and commentator.

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