Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Elephant's Secret Sense: The Hidden Life of the Wild Herds of Africa” as Want to Read:
The Elephant's Secret Sense: The Hidden Life of the Wild Herds of Africa
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Elephant's Secret Sense: The Hidden Life of the Wild Herds of Africa

3.7  ·  Rating Details ·  178 Ratings  ·  24 Reviews
In "The Elephant's Secret Sense", the internationally renowned field scientist Caitlin O'Connell tells the fascinating story of her unexpected discovery of a previously unknown mode of elephant communication. One day, while observing elephants at a waterhole in Namibia, O'Connell saw the matriarch suddenly turn, flatten her ears, and lift a leg off the ground. Several othe ...more
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published March 20th 2007 by Free Press (first published 2007)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Elephant's Secret Sense, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Elephant's Secret Sense

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Apr 19, 2009 Brynn rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book was not all I hoped for. Although the description of the author's life and how she studies the animals is quite interesting, the manner in which she told the story lost me. I thought in the beginning it was going to be a clear goal - discovering new information about the communication of the animals that would contribute to keeping them out of farmers' fields so that the animals weren't poached and the people didn't starve. Somewhere in the middle of the book, though, that purpose got ...more
Mar 02, 2008 Jennifer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Elephants use their toenails to sense the seismic activity created by approaching animals. They also walk on tip-toes when quietly leaving an area of danger!
May 04, 2013 Jennifer rated it liked it
If you're looking for a basic account of what it's like to do field research in Namibia and the Caprivi region of Zambia without being hit over the head constantly with conservation appeals, this book will do. This work encompasses two areas of research. One is devoted to elephant vocalizations and the other is related to the study of seismic communications between elephants.

The benefits of studying elephant vocalizations have an immediate impact on elephants interactions with humans, particula
Nov 05, 2007 Papalodge rated it it was ok
The Smithsonian Channel featured The Elephant King (air date 3.06.2013)
Presented by Catlin O'Connell. Caitlin spent 40 days studying an elephant herd visiting a water hole. The king of the herd - Greg - has not been seen for four months. A new leader will need to take his place. The film/documentary's focus is on the male elephant behaviors.
By 2013, Caitlin has been studying the herds for 20 years. The documentary is really - the book - on film, that I had hoped to read in 2007. The pho
Feb 15, 2008 K rated it it was ok
While observing a family group of elephants in the wild, Caitlin O'Connell, a young field scientist, noticed a peculiar listening behavior. A matriarch she had been watching for months turned her massive head and lifted her foot off the ground. As she scanned the horizon, the other elephants followed suit, all facing the same direction. O'Connell soon made a groundbreaking discovery: the elephants were "listening through limbs," feeling the ripples of the earth's surface for approaching friends ...more
Aug 07, 2012 Sue rated it it was ok
Caitlin O'Connell went to Namibia at the request of the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism to study elephant behavior, movement, and interactions. The study in Etosha led to a study in the Caprivi working with farmers trying to find ways to prevent destruction of crops by the elephants. It was during the Etosha study that O'Connell wondered if the elephants were communicating by picking up signals sent through the ground. Much of her research in subsequent summers was to prove her the ...more
Jul 02, 2015 Susan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: namibia
I was drawn to this book more because the scientific work was done in Namibia (where we are visiting this summer) than interest in elephants. But O'Connell does make the elephants and the scientific work very interesting. The complexity of the research, especially doing it in the bush, was fascinating as was the way the tools available changed in the time she was writing about. The scientific work is placed in the conquest of the political struggles of the time in Namibia and Angola - though the ...more
Feb 09, 2015 Dee rated it liked it
Wow, so much to learn about elephants!! I mean so much MORE to learn. This book is basically like getting your toes wet in the ocean, it's left me with more questions than when I started and an eagerness to learn more. The only thing I did not like so much about the book was the vast amount of technical information. I found the writing to be awkward to times as I could feel the author struggling to relate her knowledge into some semblance of a story. I had trouble picking out the one cohesive th ...more
Sep 05, 2012 Bev rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: elephant-books
Another fascinating book about elephants. O'Connell spent 14 years studying Namibian elephants and their methods of communication. She became fascinated when observing a group of elephants, noticing that the matriarch would raise her foot and check the surrounding area, and all the others in the group would do the same thing. This led to experiments which showed how elephants use their feet to pick up vibrations in the ground (seismic communication), standing on their toes when stressed, increas ...more
Sep 16, 2012 Linda rated it liked it
O’Connell and her husband, Tim Rodwell, spent many years in the Etosha National Park and the Caprivi Game Park in Namibia studying elephants. Early in their stay, Caitlin noticed how the elephants placed their feet with their toenails to the ground as they alerted to something going on around them, and she formed the hypothesis that the elephants were “hearing” through vibrations in the ground felt by their feet. Here she recounts her successful attempts to prove that this is true. I was intere ...more
Dec 27, 2007 Joaquin rated it it was ok
The story of a white woman's work on elephant conservation in Namibia. Along the way she discovers a novel form of communication used by the elephants. I was starting grad school in the same program when the author was finishing and was only vaguely aware of her work. So it was cool to see her book on the shelf at the library and learn more about it. The story and subject matter are fascinating, but ultimately I was left unsatisfied by the writing, which came across as too detached. I felt like ...more
Jul 24, 2010 Stevie rated it liked it
Shelves: 2010-reads
Also picked up from the Strand's outdoor shelves. Recently read and quite enjoyed the proof copy. Don't know if things were tightened up in the final. I found the individual stories and to be super-interesting and well told, but the overall structure to be lacking. (There are pieces that feel missing and others that feel extra). Still, it was a great close-up view of the elephants and also fed my recent location/wilderness/mostly Africa reading urge.
Dec 13, 2010 Laura rated it really liked it
While studying elephants in the wild in Africa, Caitlin noticed that they seemed to be "listening" thru their feet. The book tells about her studies in Africa and some of what she's done in the US. A good read, I would have liked a few more of her excellent photos to be included. (She also had an article in the Smithsonian a couple months ago about bull elephants and the groups that the live in.)
Alisha Bennett
Sep 13, 2012 Alisha Bennett rated it it was ok
An interesting premise but ultimately this book disappoints. The author's style and randomness detract and distract from the book's theme which was.....oh yes elephants and their secret sense. Even O'Connell seems to forget the purpose of her book throughout. With a little editing and perhaps a less misleading title this could have been a decent read but unfortunately I just didn't care by the last third of the book.
Aug 28, 2008 Mary rated it liked it
If you love elephants this book is for you. It does have some very interesting facts in it. Now I know that elephants love acacia trees for instance. I also liked its discussion of sound through vibration not only in elephants but in us as well.( Apparently there are institutes for the hearing impaired that have special wooden dance floors so that the hearing impaired can dance to the beat.) However, the new and interesting knowledge was for me to few and far between.
Apr 04, 2008 Mitzi rated it did not like it
The title sounds so intriguing--elephants seem so magical anyway but this was a wandering field journal with no real cohesion. By the end, I couldn't even tell if she proved her thesis and if she was able to help out the farmers whose crops were raided by the elephants. There is a few good descriptions of elephant behavior but not enough to wallow through this book for.
Oct 19, 2007 Kerry rated it it was amazing
I've just started the book but watched a heartbreaking special on the same topic once before. The emotional capabilities of elephants is beyond incredible. I will surely edit this review as I finish the book.
Delyse Richards
Jul 14, 2014 Delyse Richards rated it really liked it
Fascinating research and experiences amongst the elephant herds in Etosha and Okavango written by a woman with great passion for these animals and the subsistence farmers whose crops are raided by them
Mar 25, 2008 Dara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a beautiful meandering narrative about elephants, Africa, people, and politics. Definitely recommend it.
Nov 01, 2016 Susan rated it it was ok
Parts of this book were 3 stars but it was not a particularly compelling read.
Maria Garrera
Sep 26, 2008 Maria Garrera rated it liked it
Not as good as everyone said, but a nice book.
Sep 10, 2016 Foggygirl rated it liked it
Shelves: owned-read
An interesting read, although the authors use of overly poetical language and descriptions were a bit much at times.
Eric Hefke
Eric Hefke rated it it was amazing
Dec 28, 2014
Renee Abbot
Renee Abbot rated it it was amazing
Aug 15, 2009
Teresa Dicentra
Teresa Dicentra rated it liked it
Jan 20, 2015
Dave Strom
Dave Strom rated it it was amazing
Nov 16, 2015
Helen rated it liked it
Mar 12, 2012
John rated it it was amazing
Dec 04, 2015
Heather's Mum
Heather's Mum rated it it was amazing
Sep 17, 2007
Krzysztof rated it it was amazing
Oct 26, 2016
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Elephant Memories: Thirteen Years in the Life of an Elephant Family
  • The Dolphin in the Mirror: Exploring Dolphin Minds and Saving Dolphin Lives
  • Poseidon's Steed: The Story of Seahorses, from Myth to Reality
  • Secrets of the Savanna: Twenty-three Years in the African Wilderness Unraveling the Mysteries of Elephants and People
  • Beautiful Minds: The Parallel Lives of Great Apes and Dolphins
  • Elephants on the Edge: What Animals Teach Us about Humanity
  • Silent Thunder: In the Presence of Elephants
  • Don't Look Behind You! A Safari Guide's Encounters with Ravenous Lions, Stampeding Elephants, and Lovesick Rhinos
  • Elephant Dance
  • Soul of a Lion: One Woman's Quest to Rescue Africa's Wildlife Refugees
  • Tales of an African Vet
  • Listening to Whales: What the Orcas Have Taught Us
  • Rewilding the World: Dispatches from the Conservation Revolution
  • Among the Elephants
  • The Beauty of the Beasts: Tales of Hollywood's Wild Animal Stars
  • Animals Matter: A Biologist Explains Why We Should Treat Animals with Compassion and Respect
  • Cowboy and His Elephant
  • Lads Before the Wind: Diary of a Dolphin Trainer
Dr. Caitlin O'Connell is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Otolaryngology, Head & Neck Surgery at Stanford University School of Medicine and a world renowned expert on elephants and vibrotactile sensitivity. She is the author of the internationally acclaimed nonfiction science memoir, The Elephant's Secret Sense (2007, Free Press), which highlights a novel form of elephant communicatio ...more
More about Caitlin O'Connell...

Share This Book