Monday, October 22, 2018

Eavesdropping on elephants: How listening helps conservation by Patricia Newman

I've really liked Newman's science titles for middle grade readers in the past and her latest is no exception. Featuring a popular large animal, elephants, this blends science and conservation, mystery and career advice, to give kids a window into the lives of elephants and the scientists who study them.

The book opens with the subsonic rumblings of elephants and the beginning of the Elephant Listening Project in 1984 as biologist Katy Payne transitioned from listening to whales to the seemingly similar sounds of elephants.

Over the years, Katy and other scientists worked to research infrasound, sounds too low for human ears to hear. As readers follow Payne and her assistants on her journey, they'll learn more about the science behind different types of sound and they'll meet many different elephants (for fans like me there are bongos too! I love bongos.).

The project encompasses developing technology, encroaching poachers and habitat destruction, and the accumulation and organization of thousands of hours of data as the scientists worked to make sense of the elephants' sounds. As the years passed, new scientists Liz Rowland and Peter Wrege came on board and the goal of the project began to shift from researching elephant sounds to helping them survive. Then they made a discovery - they could use the sounds of elephants and their scientific interpretation to keep them safe, monitor their health, and advise governments on protecting them.

The book ends with a chapter reflecting on the long history of research into elephant sounds, especially forest elephants as shown in this book, and their current vulnerability, the many challenges they face, and how continued research into infrasound could help. Throughout the book there are QR codes that will allow readers to listen to some of the sounds described. Back matter includes links and suggestions on getting involved, source notes, glossary, bibliography, further reading (books and websites), index, and acknowledgements.

Verdict: For readers who love animals and want to get involved, kids who are fascinated by science, and all those elephant lovers, this is a great book to expand their knowledge and help them learn that there's a lot more to elephants than just "big." Recommended.

ISBN: 9781541515710; Published August 2018 by Millbrook/Lerner; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

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