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When Roger Henneous first dons his keeper uniform and sets foot in the Oregon Zoo, he doesn't know what to expect. But over his thirty-year career, Roger discovers the joys, difficulties, and dangers of life in a zoo, all the while maintaining an unwavering devotion to Belle, Packy, and the rest of the Asian elephants in his care. As their friend, Roger faces many risks – but his willingness to learn their language and speak for the herd makes him unique among his contemporaries. In return, the elephants give Roger a rare level of trust and respect, reminding us how much we can learn when we choose to listen.
Elephant Speak: A Devoted Keeper's Life Among the Herd takes place in a time when ethical conversations about animal comfort, safety, and enrichment in zoos were just beginning. More than an evolutionary history of zookeeping, this unique biography celebrates the extraordinary bonds between humans and elephants and asks what we owe elephants, where we have fallen short, and how we can move forward together.
Melissa Crandall is a writer and essayist whose work has appeared in dozens of publications including Allegory Magazine, Wild Musette, ASPCA's Animal Watch Magazine, and the Journal of the Elephant Managers Association, and is the author of Darling Wendy and Other Stories and Weathercock. Her short fiction has been featured in numerous collections, with her stories The Cellar and Thicker Than Water both nominated for Pushcart Prizes. Melissa is a member of the Authors Guild and the Elephant Managers Association and currently resides in Connecticut with her husband.
"[A] fascinating, thought-provoking nonfiction debut."
– Amy Wang, The Oregonian
"Novelist and short story writer Crandall (Darling Wendy and Other Stories) makes her nonfiction debut with an affectionate profile of Roger Henneous, the longtime senior elephant keeper at Portland's Oregon Zoo. Drawing on interviews conducted over four years, Crandall describes how Henneous learned animal care skills during his childhood in rural Iowa, and how, in 1968, he landed his dream job as an animal keeper at the Oregon Zoo, where, after "less than an hour on duty [...] he already felt like he belonged". His "unflinching work ethic" and compassionate approach led to his promotion to chief elephant keeper and widespread recognition among his professional peers. While readers meet a number of Henneous's charges, it's clear that he is especially fond of herd matriarch Belle, who at one point saves Crandall's life when a younger female elephant attacks him, outraged at him removing her baby from the enclosure for medical care. In one of the book's most tender scenes, he visits Belle in the zoo's convalescent ward shortly before her death in 1997, and not long before his own retirement in 1998. This moving tribute to a devoted and compassionate man will elicit a few tears before its conclusion."
– Publishers Weekly
"Elephant Speak rewards the reader with an intimate look at Packy, Rosy, Belle, Me-Tu, and the rest of the [Oregon] Zoo's herd over the years. There are stories of Pet outwitting a scientist to garner more treats, of elephant's relationships with each other, of sadness and joy."
– Deon Stonehouse, owner of Sunriver Books and Music
"Elephant Speak: A Devoted Keeper's Life Among the Herd educates its readers while enthralling them with the story of Roger Henneous's career as an elephant keeper. His story confirms that once you've had the opportunity to know this remarkable and intelligent species, it is impossible not to be concerned about its today and tomorrow. My thanks to Melissa Crandall for offering the reader an opportunity to enjoy a great story, learn about a remarkable man and the elephants he cared for, and, at the end of the last page, want to be a part of the effort to help the Asian elephant on his challenging trek to the next century."
– Linda Reifschneider, President, Asian Elephant Support
"Elephant Speak is a deeply moving account of Roger's touching relationship with elephants and a window into the extraordinary mind, heart, and spirit of these wise and sensitive beings. The book is beautifully written and difficult to put down."
– Maia Kincaid, author of Animal Communicator Adventures: The Journey Begins!
"In the spirit of All Creatures Great and Small, Melissa Crandall's Elephant Speak is an inspired, and inspiring, tale of shared devotion between a man and an elephant herd, fostered through a language that transcends barriers: love. Both timely and timeless, this is a story that needed to be told – and by somebody with the intimate familiarity to tell it."
– John B. Valeri, book reviewer and writer for National Book Review, The News and Times, and The Strand
"Told with compassion and intimacy, Elephant Speak is the story of one man, but it's also the story of so much more. It's the story of the elephants themselves, of the growing professional standards of zoos, and of the changing nature of elephant care. At times upsetting, always moving, Crandall's writing never shies away from the truth. Elephant Speak is a must-read if you love elephants."
– Janie Chodosh, author of Wild Lives: Leading Conservationists on the Animals and the Planet They Love