Giants of the Monsoon Forest, by Jacob Shell
High in the mountainous rainforests of Burma and India grow some of the world’s last stands of mature, wild teak. For more than a thousand years, people here have worked with elephants to log these otherwise impassable forests and move people and goods (often illicitly) under cover of the forest canopy. In Giants of the Monsoon Forest, geographer Jacob Shell takes us deep into this strange elephant country to explore the lives of these extraordinarily intelligent creatures.
Visiting tiny logging villages and forest camps, Shell describes fascinating characters, both elephant and human—like a heroic elephant named Maggie who saves dozens of British and Burmese refugees during World War II, and an elephant named Pak Chan who sneaks away from the Ho Chi Minh Trail to mate with a partner in a passing herd. We encounter an eloquent colonel in a rebel army in Burma’s Kachin State, whose expertise is smuggling arms and valuable jade via elephant convoy, and several particularly smart elephants, including one who discovers, all on his own, how to use a wood branch as a kind of safety lock when lifting heavy teak logs.
Giants of the Monsoon Forest offers a new perspective on animal intelligence and reveals an unexpected relationship between evolution in the natural world and political struggles in the human one.
Praise for Giants of the Monsoon Forest
“A thrilling exploration of the unique alliance between humans and elephants in one of the world’s last great shadowy regions (beyond even the reach of Google Maps). Not only brimful of fantastic tales of derring-do—escapes, rescues, and furtive forest work—Giants of the Monsoon Forest is also a brave manifesto for how this age-old, mysterious, and symbiotic relationship might survive, and even help to protect, the Earth’s fast-diminishing wilderness.”
“No one who loves elephants or how humans interact with wildlife should pass up Jacob Shell’s remarkable book. From Hannibal’s elephants, to those of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, to the author's own accounts of logging elephants in Burma, Shell’s stories of these intelligent animals and their human companions sing with compassion. I was thoroughly hooked.”
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