National Geographic: Coming of Age with Elephants


I learned to look at the world through

the eyes and ears of elephants.

Some people, other elephant people,

have told me

that I think I am an elephant.

In some ways, perhaps they are right.

Like Africa, the elephants

take hold of your spirits.

They can possess you and persuades you

to look at the world

in a different light.

There is something so grand about

the life of an elephant,

its great size, strength, and age.

Elephants have so many of the

qualities we like best about ourselves,

dignity, loyalty

to families and friends,

compassion, and a sense of humor.

Biologist Joyce Poole has taken

a journey,

without maps, into the heart of

the African elephant.

She came to know elephant like family.

She discovered biological forces

no one had ever suspected,

and elephant voices

no human had ever heard.

For years, Joyce fought for

their survival,

never imagining that one day

she would face a terrible choice.

Joyce Poole would have to give

the order to kill elephants.

This is the story of a woman

who loved elephants in a world

that had no room for them.

Looking back at how it all began,

it seems as if Africa has always been

my home.

Joyce Poole's family came to Kenya

in the 1960s

when her father worked for

the Peace Corps.

She grew up in Africa.

The family loved wild places

and often camped in

Kenya's Amboseli National Park.

I saw my first elephant as a child

of seven,

a huge bull in Amboseli.

And I remember asking my father

what would happen

if he charged the car.

And as my father said,

"He'll squash the car down to

the size of a pea pod," he came.

I remember a lot from Amboseli.

It was one of our favorite places,

but I remember most the elephants.

The swamps were home

to a huge number of animals.

But it was always the elephants

that captured my imagination.

At the age of 11,

Joyce knew what she was going to be

when she grew up,

a wildlife biologist.

When the time came to leave home, she

went out to live among the elephants.

Her journey would soon

change the way

the rest of the world thought about


But in time,

it would change Joyce, too,

and turn all her dreams

for the elephants into dust.

It began in the shadow of Kilimanjaro

on the Kenya border.

Her new home was

Amboseli National Park,

where she had first encountered


Her mentor was Cynthia Moss,

who had already embarked on the most

comprehensive study

of elephant society ever attempted.

Using a photo book with pictures of

the elephants in Amboseli,

Cynthia taught Joyce

how to identify individuals.

Just keep your eye on Tuskless.

Now look, here in this picture,

you would say M-57 was older than M-22

because of the angle of his head.

Yes, Yes.

He's much younger.

The elephants also got to know

the researchers.

Babies played on camp as if under the

watchful eye of their own aunts.

At first, all the elephants looked alike

to me,

large and gray with big ears.

But Cynthia taught me how different

each elephant really was.


Esmeraldo was born in 1948.

Joyce gradually learned to recognize

individuals by their familiar features.

Vee was named

for the V-notches in her ears.

Tuskless had no ivory.

Joyce was particularly fond of

jezebel, a noble old matriarch

with one tusk pointing skyward

and the other straight ahead.

Each new arrival was given a name

that identified it as part of

a specific family group.

Cynthia Moss's work was

already revealing

that elephant families formed

an unusually complex society

dominated by females.

But the lives of the males were

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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    "National Geographic: Coming of Age with Elephants" STANDS4 LLC, 2023. Web. 29 Jan. 2023. <>.

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