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Exquisite Photo Book Captures 20 Years of Life, Death, Love, and Loss Among Elephant Community



Michael Nichols, National Geographic’s editor-at-large for photography, knows a lot about elephants. He first began photographing the majestic creatures in the lowland forests of the Central African Republic in 1991. His first subjects, terrorized by ivory poaching, offered Nichols only brief glimpses into their communities and activities before stampeding off at the first sign of a human presence.


In the ensuing years, Nichols came across a group of some 600 elephants in the savannah of Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve. These elephant communities, familiar with tourists and protected from poaching, provided Nichols with ample fodder for his just released book, “Earth to Sky: Among Africa’s Elephants, a Species in Crisis.”


“Earth to Sky” is a chronicle of the beauty and wisdom of the earth’s largest land animals, as well as a plea for the protection of the species. In his book, Nichols writes, “These are the most caring and sentient creatures on earth, yet they suffer so terribly at the hand of man.”


Nichols explained to the New York Times how an elephant family marked the death of a female, with the family members surrounding the corpse, touching it with their trunks, and swaying back and forth. Visitors from other families also came and participated in what Nichols described as “mourning.” “They go to the corpse and they won’t leave it. Even when it’s just bones. Once a year they’ll visit the bones and hold them with their trunk. I would call that mourning,” said Nichols.


Tragically the elephant’s future is uncertain, according to a consensus of wildlife and conservation organizations. The World Wildlife Fund states that “The greatest threats facing elephants today are poaching, conflict with humans, and habitat loss and degradation. Elephants across Africa and Asia are being poached for their ivory at increasing levels.” The organization recommends helping this species by taking action against wildlife crime, raising awareness, and/or adopting an elephant.


“Earth to Sky” can be ordered online for $49.95. The book is coffee table size (almost 12 inches by 9 inches) and 188 pages plus two gatefold pages.