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Elephant Destiny: Biography of an Endangered Species in Africa Hardcover

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 244 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; 1 edition (April 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586480774
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586480776
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,117,835 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From 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.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

The long, sad history of the relationship between the African elephant and humans is detailed in this succinct account. Meredith, a former foreign correspondent for the London Observer and author of numerous books on Africa, has condensed centuries of writings about elephants into an eminently readable "biography." This tragic tale begins with well-known elephant researcher Ian Douglas-Hamilton's 1987 return to his study area only to discover that most of the elephants he had studied for 20 years had been slaughtered for their ivory. The narrative then jumps back to look at how the Egyptians, Romans, and early Europeans exploited Africa's elephants, the killing of which only increased with the rise of the slave trade and the colonization of Africa. The establishment of national parks and game reserves slowed the killing. Finally, the effects of the Ivory Wars of the 1970s and 1980s end this sad chronicle. Meredith's obvious affection for his subject shines through the narrative, which is illustrated with period woodcuts. Nancy Bent
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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See all 7 customer reviews
I confess, I did not know much about elephants before reading this book.
There is also an excellent account of efforts to reverse the catastrophic decline in the African elephant population, due to the ivory trade.
Larry Diamond
Finally, the illustrations, and pictures were a nice edition, but some key photos/drawings should be added to the next edition.
Godfrey T. Degamo

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Godfrey T. Degamo on November 16, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The subtitle is slightly misleading. This book is definitely a biography of the African elephant, but not from the point of view of the elephant, but of man's relationship with the African elephant. So note. This means that the science of the elephant is not the main thrust of this book, in fact, the biology, zoology, and ecology of the elephant is maybe a fourth of this book. So if you are looking solely for science, this book will disappoint you.
Bottom line first: If you are a fan of the elephant, or if this is your first book on the elephant, than this is a good book. If you know a lot about the science of the elephant, and want to know more about the culture of the elephant, this is a good start. Those wanting more science or more about the craft of ivory art, look else where.
Now, that is it, but read on for more details, if you like. This book is -rather- the history of man's relationship with the African elephant. It's quite romantic, tragic, and greedy at the same time. Meredith presents us with many facets of the elephant. From it's mythology in the ancient world, symbolizing both wisdom, and power. To the greed of the ivory trade which has happened several times in the past and has almost lead to the extinction of the elephant each time. There are plenty of color pictures showing the elephant as well as some nice illustrations peppered throughout the book.
So it starts right away with ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. And just how the elephants were used in these societies. Mostly for war, and for ivory. So, we see the history of elephant use in wars, from Alexanders first encounter with them, to Carthage's valiant attempt to overthrow Rome.
Meredith has almost captured the romance and the allure of Africa, from a colonial European viewpoint.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Lawyeraau HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 27, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful, well written, illustrated book about elephants and their role throughout history, as well as their present state in the world. I confess, I did not know much about elephants before reading this book. I now feel I know something about them, and what I have discovered is fascinating. I did not realize how complex and intelligent these magnificent creatures are, nor how dangerously close to extinction they have become. It would, indeed, be tragic were that to happen, for elephants are sociable, sentient, and intelligent.
The author takes the reader on a tour throughout history, describing the elephant's interaction with humanity and its role in the affairs of mankind and its impact on the environment. The book traces the influence of the elephant and the various uses to which mankind has put this great creature. From being used as a conveyance in times of war, to being paraded as an object of wonder and curiosity, to being hunted down mercilessly for its ivory tusks, the elephant has had a somewhat checkered history in terms of its interaction with human beings.
The author also carefully relates the elephant's own social structure, which is a sophisticated and complex one. Their mating rituals, their family life, and their handling of death are all addressed by the author, who paints a picture of a multi-faceted and remarkable society of elephants. It is only in the twentieth century that its complexity has begun to be understood by man. It is hoped that this is not a case of too little, too late.
Unfortunately for the elephant, however, its positive qualities have taken a backseat to its value as a commodity. Elephant tusks may eventually bring about the demise of the entire species, if the world does not take heed.
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Format: Hardcover
Africa-specialist Martin Meredith wrote this short yet packed book about one of Africa's most interesting characters. "Elephant Destiny" reads like a history of human-elephant relations on the continent for the past 3,000 years or so. Each short chapter focuses on a different historical era in the relationship. This brings out some amusing anecdotes (such as when native East Africans could not believe Europeans paid such a high price for ivory simply to make toys and dagger handles). However, throughout our mutual history, humans have too often been the aggressor.

The book is short (despite its 200 pages) and could have spent more time focused on the elephants themselves rather than just their history with man. There is some fascinating research regarding elephant intelligence, society, and communication, but these are given short shrift (some of that is covered in the more recent book The Elephant's Secret Sense: The Hidden Life of the Wild Herds of Africa). On the other hand, the anecdotes about elephants and death (in the chapter "Death") is great. I also loved the anecdote of an elephant grabbing a crocodile with its trunk and swinging it around.

I would also have liked to have read more about elephant evolution - their descendants, their roots in Africa, and why other species went extinct. There is a short chapter on this, but not nearly enough. However, that might be beyond the scope of this book (which why the next book I'm reading is Evolving Eden: An Illustrated Guide to the Evolution of the African Large Mammal Fauna).
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