A Delicate Elephant Balance

Could human partnership be the secret to saving this Asian giant?

A young girl from the Longneck tribe feeds an elephant waiting in a row of other elephants and mahouts
Ton Koene (Alamy)

There are 40,000 Asian elephants left in the world, tucked into the mountainous forests of the continent. They used to roam all over India and far up into China, almost as far north as Beijing—but as humans have expanded into their habitats, the elephants have retreated further into the forests. Nearly a quarter of those elephants, around 9,000, are doing work alongside humans that is invisible to the urban eye: carrying people and supplies across remote areas, going where roads cannot, especially at the height of monsoon season. Paradoxically, the logging industry relies on the work of elephants that need the very forest being cut. The balance of that unseen work—and the complicated, often life-long relationship between the elephant and its handler—is the subject of Jacob Shell’s new book, Giants of the Monsoon Forest. He joins us on the podcast to document a disappearing way of life, and to explain how these centuries-long traditions might hold the key to the Asian elephant’s survival.

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Tune in every week to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek. Follow us on Twitter @TheAmScho or on Facebook.

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Stephanie Bastek is the senior editor of the Scholar and the producer/host of the Smarty Pants podcast.


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