Shopping for books for a wildlife lover, tree-hugger, naturalist, or conservationist in your gift-giving circle? Here are a few titles to titilate their reading sensibilities:
Love, Life and Elephants, by Dame Daphne Sheldrick (2013). Sheldrick helped to pioneer husbandry methods for raising orphaned elephants so young that they were still dependent upon their mother’s milk. But she also cared for numerous other kinds of injured and orphaned wildlife in her time at Tsavo National Park. Although this book is heavy in the early parts with Sheldrick’s family history of settling in Kenya as British homesteaders in the first half of the 20th century, the story is laced throughout with observations of wildlife and interactions with individual animal oprhans, including: wild giraffes, hyenas, rhinoceros, raptors of all kinds, elusive kudu, gazelles, lions, leopards, oryx, ostriches and — of course — elephants.
Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures, by Virginia Morrel (2013). This books takes readers on an unforgettable jaunt through major recent changes in how scientists understand the intelligence of animals ranging from ants to fish, birds, dolphins and dogs. Morrel is an accomplished science writer and deftly unpacks research findings for her readers while touring research labs and meeting with scientists across the world.
The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival, by John Vaillant (2010). Can a tiger hold a vendetta against a person? This is a central question in Vaillant’s book, and he’s written a haunting tale you won’t soon forget. It’s based on true events that transpired in Russia’s Far East in the late 1990s. The truth of the events portrayed in this book will stalk your conscience until you are forced to confront several revelations: that tigers may possess an intelligence which allows for pre-meditated action, that tigers may have emotions and act upon them, that tigers may have the emotive and cognitive capacities to possess grudges and enact vendettas, and that most humans who don’t live with wild tigers tend to downplay and discredit these possibilities.
Zoobiquity: The Astonishing Connections Between Animal and Human Health, by Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers (2012). Written by a cardiologist who volunteers her expertise at the Los Angeles Zoo, this book explores the fascinating and little-explored overlap between human health conditions and those of animals. Rhinoceroces that get the same type of cancer beneath their horns that we get beneath our fingernails, primates that suffer similar heart conditions, captive bears that are obese, birds with obsessive-compulsive tendencies to harm themselves — in each chapter the authors take a human affliction and explore its counterpart in the animal world, even treading into evolutionary theorizing to explain its possible origins. This is a jaw-dropping read and I can guarantee readers will never look at animals quite the same way again.
The Wolf’s Tooth, by Cristina Eisenberg (2010). This is a story about how two intertwined ecological concepts — keystone predators and trophic cascades — leave their signatures upon entire landscapes. Eisenberg’s own field work studying the herbivory effects on willow and aspen, by elk, is woven into the narrative of how scientists know what they know about food web interactions in both terrestrial and aquatic environments. (This book is a bit academically oriented, and probably best suited for the advanced student in your life.)
The Hidden Life of Wolves, by Jim and Jamie Dutcher (2013). Got a relative whose interested in living with wolves? This is the book for that special person. The Dutchers shared a 25-acre enclosure with a pack of wolves in central Idaho for six years, and they lived to write about it.
The Wild Trees, by Richard Preston (2007). Have to admit, this is the one book on this list I have not read, but would really like to. A novel-like narrative of canopy-level explorations in the coast redwood forests of northern California, Preston reveals an intricate, ethereal world largely inaccessible to earth-bound people. (Although Preston has been criticized for exagerated reporting in his previous book, The Hot Zone, The Wild Trees has recieved excellent reviews.)
And last but not least, a classic favorite:
Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey (1968). This book is a delight for the desert rat in your life, or the introverted soul who simply likes to be alone and commune with a landscape. The philosophical passages evoke Thoreau’s Walden while the ecological parts harbor echoes of Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac. Abbey’s writing is nature-centric, sensitive, and a pleasure to get lost within. This book became an instant hit among American environmentalists, and has endured across four and a half decades to become a classic.