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

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  244 ratings  ·  31 reviews
Book by O'Connell, Caitlin ...more
Hardcover, 241 pages
Published March 20th 2007 by Free Press (first published 2007)
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Average rating 3.76  · 
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 ·  244 ratings  ·  31 reviews

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Apr 19, 2009 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
Neil Daniel
Sep 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The story of humans in the world is a sad tale of greed, ignorance and horrific abuse of the stewardship of the planet we have claimed as our birthright. Sometimes deliberately, sometimes inadvertently, but always with devastating agency, we have driven a number of species to extinction. The elephant, cursed with the ‘white gold’ of ivory, has been wantonly hunted and killed, as much for sport as for the valuable ivory in their tusks. Additionally, the modern drive of globalization of industrial ...more
Mar 02, 2008 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!
Nov 01, 2016 rated it it was ok
Parts of this book were 3 stars but it was not a particularly compelling read.
Chris Bartholomew
Apr 17, 2018 rated it liked it
An interesting book, well written. The author spends 13 years researching a new theory of elephants communicating with their feet! A simplification to be sure, but apparently elephants use the tip toes of a foot to feel and "read" the vibrations in the ground. She lays out the lengthy process that science goes through to validate a theory. She also vividly describes the sensations of studying such large creatures up close. ...more
Steph C
Sep 16, 2017 rated it it was ok
I read this book 5 years ago and I remember being optimistic based on the jacket description. Elephants are one of my favourite animals and I have read many books about them. However the author did not translate her research into a captivating read. It was excruciating to get through and I commenced reading 4 other books before I finally managed to finish this one.
Steve Mayberry
Jan 22, 2018 rated it did not like it
This was a slog. Vacillates between very simple declarative statements and stilted, academic-type prose. The sections of dialog are almost impossible to follow. And granted this is non-fiction, but not exempt from the need for some sort of dramatic structure

(But five stars+ for smart, well-intentioned research & efforts to reduce elephant/farmer conflict)
Elizabeth Ramoni
Dec 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: animals
A little more memoir and a little less about the science of elephants' seismic communication than I wanted/expected, but I would still strongly recommend it. It's a great story that does a good job of touching all angles relating to her work. ...more
Terri ducay
Jul 20, 2017 rated it liked it
There are parts of the book which I very much enjoyed, but overall the book seemed disjointed. I think I learned more about bull elephants in musth than I did about seismic communication.
Billy Russell
Oct 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As an elephant lover, I thought this book was extraordinarily inspiring and enlightening. A very wonderful adventure story.
Dec 29, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first half of the book was excellent loads of info and stories about Elephants ... second half was less interesting more about the research.
Elena Mariotti
Mar 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
I think that for the public it will be an interesting book, showing how wild animal behaviouralist work while also giving a portrait of southern Africa. For an animal behaviouralist working in South Africa like me, the beginning of the book is precious, then it gets lost into the author's personal life and finally, it comes back to experiments on elephants but again from a more personal than a scientifical point of view. ...more
May 04, 2013 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 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 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 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
Feb 09, 2015 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
Jul 02, 2015 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
Sep 05, 2012 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 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 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
Aug 28, 2008 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.
Jul 24, 2010 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. ...more
Dec 13, 2010 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.) ...more
Apr 04, 2008 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. ...more
Oct 19, 2007 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. ...more
Delyse Richards
Jul 14, 2014 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 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a beautiful meandering narrative about elephants, Africa, people, and politics. Definitely recommend it.
Maria Garrera
Sep 26, 2008 rated it liked it
Not as good as everyone said, but a nice book.
Sep 10, 2016 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.
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Dr. Caitlin O'Connell is an Assistant Professor (pending) at Harvard Medical School, Staff Scientist at Eaton Peabody Lab at Massachusetts Eye & Ear and Visiting Scholar 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 nonfictio ...more

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