SCIENCES

Giants of the Monsoon Forest: Living and Working with Elephants

Norton. Jun. 2019. 288p. photos. notes. index. ISBN 9780393247763. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393247770. NAT HIST
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Shell (geography and urban studies, Temple Univ., PA) has a keen interest in transportation systems. This interest has led him to study the relationship between humans and elephants. He focuses on the Indian-Burmese border, where between a third and a fourth of the estimated 40,000–50,000 remaining Asian elephants are worker elephants: helping humans with transportation of materials, fording treacherous flooded areas, and logging activities. Elephants have not been selectively bred as extensively as other working species such as dogs, mainly because their long life spans are not conducive to intensive genetic selection by humans. Shell explores the characteristics of elephants that have made them so adaptable and helpful to humans. Topics covered include how wild elephants are caught and trained, the utility and strength of the elephant trunk, and the historic heroic tales of elephants transporting humans away from dangerous places and through treacherous terrains. Shell argues that mahouts (professional elephant riders and handlers) are uniquely poised to help in the conservation efforts necessary to save this imperiled species.

VERDICT This fascinating book explores the complex bond between elephants and humans, becoming part of the new ethno-elephantology research that has captivated scholars from many different disciplines.

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