The best books about wild animals and the humans that care for them

Melissa Crandall Author Of Elephant Speak: A Devoted Keeper's Life Among the Herd
By Melissa Crandall

Who am I?

As a child, let loose to wander the woods around my home, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t fascinated by animals, not only the dogs and cats we kept at home, but the wild critters I encountered. As I grew, so did my admiration and respect for the creatures that live in the wild. When I volunteered at Oregon’s Washington Park Zoo, and met Senior Elephant Keeper Roger Henneous, a new level of interest opened up as I observed the relationships between the animals and those who care for them. It bothered me that I often read nasty things about keepers, when I knew that most are devoted to those in their care.


I wrote...

Elephant Speak: A Devoted Keeper's Life Among the Herd

By Melissa Crandall,

Book cover of Elephant Speak: A Devoted Keeper's Life Among the Herd

What is my book about?

“You can make an elephant do one of two things: run away, or kill you. But you can get an elephant to do a number of amazing things.”

Elephant Speak offers an unvarnished look at one man’s loving, compassionate, often frustrating, and occasionally life-threatening 30-year relationship with the largest herd of breeding elephants in North America. The story of Roger Henneous and the elephants at what is now the Oregon Zoo celebrates the extraordinary bond that can exist between humans and elephants, and examines what we owe them in order to assure their continued survival.

The books I picked & why

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The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Wild

By Lawrence Anthony, Graham Spence,

Book cover of The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Wild

Why this book?

This is probably one of the best known/best loved books about wild animals and those who care for them, and kept me almost literally on the edge of my seat wondering whether devoted animal conservationist Lawrence Anthony would succeed in rehoming a wild herd of “rogue” elephants. Along the way, he forges a bond with the animals, and soon realizes there is much he can learn from them about life, loyalty, and what it means to be free. But will his efforts result in success? Can he find a middle-ground on which elephants and humans can co-exist, or will Anthony have to step aside and allow their destruction? 


Elephant Company: The Inspiring Story of an Unlikely Hero and the Animals Who Helped Him Save Lives in World War II

By Vicki Croke,

Book cover of Elephant Company: The Inspiring Story of an Unlikely Hero and the Animals Who Helped Him Save Lives in World War II

Why this book?

This bestselling book was published right at the time I began working on my book, and it helped to forge my life-long bond with Roger Henneous because stories of J.H. “Elephant Bill” Williams gave him his first insight into elephant psychology and physiology. Like Roger, Williams came to elephants with no prior experience, but captured by an unexplainable desire to be in their presence. Both men learned by doing—mourning failure and celebrating success—and opened themselves to whatever the elephants could teach them. 


Smiling Bears: A Zookeeper Explores the Behaviour and Emotional Life of Bears

By Else Poulsen,

Book cover of Smiling Bears: A Zookeeper Explores the Behaviour and Emotional Life of Bears

Why this book?

Part of my reason for writing my book was to understand what it means to be a conscientious zookeeper, and this book provides an intimate portrait of a woman deeply committed to the animals she loves. The first two questions the late award-winning animal management consultant Else Poulsen asked any creature she met were “Who are you?” and “What can I do for you?” She learned the answers by close observation and empathy. She nurtured bears in crisis, raised and comforted them, taught them, and learned from them.


The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness

By Sy Montgomery,

Book cover of The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness

Why this book?

This is the book that made me love the octopus! With humor, brilliance, and empathy, naturalist Sy Montgomery explores the physical and emotional world of largely captive octopuses, and their impact on the caregivers and divers who encounter them. As Montogomery attempts to bridge the gap between her own human consciousness and that of the octopuses, they reveal themselves to be intelligent and spirited creatures with complex emotional lives.


The Beast in the Garden: A Modern Parable of Man and Nature

By David Baron,

Book cover of The Beast in the Garden: A Modern Parable of Man and Nature

Why this book?

I’m captivated by this book every time I read it (and I’ve read it a lot). It brings to light the uneasy relationship we have with wild creatures, especially when we unwittingly invite them into our own backyards. A thought-provoking (and often nerve-wracking) narrative about the clash between the citizens of Boulder, CO and the local population of mountain lions, and the distressing expansion of human beings into the few wild areas remaining to them (and, in fact, to all animals). When those pockets of wilderness are gone, where are they supposed to go? How can we alleviate human/animal conflict over resources?


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