George Aranda Reviews Eavesdropping on Elephants
Eavesdropping on Elephants: How Listening Helps Conservation, by Patricia Newman
Eavesdropping on Elephants is the latest book by science writer Patricia Newman. The author of previous works such as Sea Otter Heroes focuses on the work of scientists conducting the Elephant Listening project which commenced in May 1984, and understanding the sounds that elephants make in their communication. This communication goes beyond the ranges of sounds that we as humans can typically perceive, into frequencies that are so low that we can’t hear them – infrasound. Infrasound are often given off by natural phenomena such as volcanoes and earthquakes, but as you learn in this book, elephants make use of communications at these frequencies as well.
The focus of much of Newman’s previous work is on the nature of science, that is, the processes by which scientists come to answer questions. Eavesdropping on Elephants is no different and we get a fascinating insight into the world of scientists as they ask questions, attempt to answer those questions, revise their original questions or think about asking new questions. Balanced between the need to impart knowledge to young readers, and to highlight the work of scientists – the book manages to share the reader the most current information we have about elephants and their communication, but also the role that scientists play in their work, local communities and the relationships they have with the animals themselves. As a science communicator and educator, I believe this balance offers young readers the opportunity to learn much more about elephants than the mere imparting of facts and figures without context that children’s science books can fall victim to.
The book also makes great use of the internet and multimedia technology, with QR codes embedded throughout the book. This book provides resources whereby the reader can ‘see’ the interaction between competing elephants, and can ‘hear’ the communication sounds between elephants when they are slowed down to make them discernible. As a lover of elephants, I believe this book will be a great read for the lover of large animals in your life.
Dr George Aranda is a former cognitive neuroscience researcher who has moved to the world of science education and science communication research. He runs the Big Ideas science book club in Melbourne and is the curator of Science Book a Day.