Sunday, October 03, 2004

Love, War, and Circuses by Eric Scigliano

"...Jumbo, the most celebrated elephant of all time, would share a large bottle of stout each night with his keeper, Matthew Scott, who pitched his cot by Jumbo's pen. When Scott forgot himself and drank the whole bottle, Jumbo shook him awake and demanded his nightcap." (13) This book is subtitled The age-old relationship between elephants and humans captures an interest of mine. I'm often attracted not just to "nature studies" or "ecological studies" but to those areas where humans affect and are affected by other species. Obviously, this happens every day in every hour, but Of Wolves and Men was fascinating because it tells the story of that relationship in many contexts. This book is about that human-elephant relationship and is also fascinating. Not as artfully crafted as Lopez' book, but worth reading none-the-less. But, I've got a stack ten feet high right now, so I contented myself with reading the first four chapters and quickly scanning/skipping the rest. Cool stuff about mammoths and mastadons and extinction. Also, one of his theses is that elephants created the ecological context into which early humans stepped. Because of their foraging habits, they converted some forested areas to savannah which made for optimal human terrain. Another tidbit: "Brain size alone is not a strict predictor of intelligence, but elephants' brains are richly folded and convoluted, indicating sophisticated development, with expansive cerebral lobes, the seats of memory (at least in humans). More telling is the degree to which their brains grow after birth, an indicator of learning ability. Most mammals already have about 90 percent of their ultimate brain mass at birth. Humans have just 26 percent, and chimpanzees about 50 percent. Elephants have 35 percent." (13)


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