A recent visit to a bookstore resulted in the discovery of an item which may be of interest to some subscribers of this list, especially taphonomists, paleo-artists, etc. This book is a MUST for anyone interested in large animal skeletons and their disarticulation patterns during decay/scavenging. The book (citation below) is a curious eclectic collection of black and white photographs and drawings largely arranged in a scrapbook format with many hundreds of photographs of African animals (dead and alive), local people/history, explorers, big game hunters (then and more recent), pictures of American president Teddy Roosevelt hunting in Africa, etc. Also included is various text, including material by (and pictures of) Karen Blixen (of "Out of Africa" fame). The main theme of the book is the decline of the big game hunter culture in Africa. This was all of just casual interest to me and I was ready to put the book back on the shelf, until I reached Chapter 6 entitled: "Nor Dread nor Hope Attend".
Here is presented an amazing array of 175 mostly closeup top view photographs taken from an airplane of mostly Elephant carcasses in various stages of decay (recently dead, articulated/disarticulated skeletons). Other pictures in the book would bring this number close to 200 different dead Elephants. Most are skeletonized. It would seem the small plane had the motor turned off and silently swooped down for the picture, as in some cases, scavenging Lions and Vultures remain undisturbed on the carcass. Because of the large number of pictures, this book is an excellent source of information on Elephant carcass taphonomic processes. I am surprised it has not been cited (at least I've never seen it) within the paleontological community and thus bring it to your attention. Apparently most of these animals died of starvation and thirst around 1977 after being poorly managed in Tsavo National Park- a place intended for their protection. It does not seem that these animals were poached as many still retain their tusks.
Of taphonomic interest is the body posture of the Elephants- many have the limbs tightly drawn up to the torso in a "swimming" or "galloping"-like pose. Late Cretaceous hadrosaurs also are often found in this classic "death pose". Once I was told that some animals (Elephants included), when weakened and death imminent, will preferentially lie on one side of the body vs. the other. I scanned the book for any such pattern, but did not seen any. Animals were found lying on the left and right sides almost equally and a few seem to have collapsed onto their bellies.
IMPORTANT!! APPARENTLY ONLY THE 1988 EDITION HAS THE ELEPHANT CARCASS PICTURES IN CHAPTER 6. I am not aware of any subsequent editions containing this chapter, but the 1963, 1965, 1977 apparently do not.
THE END OF THE GAME.
Chronicle Books, San Fransisco (they have a website: www.chronbooks.com)
1988 edition. no pagination.
ISBN 0-87701-516-3 (paperback).
My paperback copy in brand new condition cost $24.95 American.
Trust this will be of interest,
Darren Tanke, Tech. I
Dinosaur Research Program
Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology
Drumheller, AB, Canada
Senior Editor, Paleopathology and Recent
Dento-Osteopathology Bibliography; see homepage