Baboons, Elephants, Fish, and Bees

by Kathryn on October 28, 2012

When I found out Odyssey magazine was doing an issue on the science of elections, I figured most of the articles would be about voting, statistics, and other obvious political topics that spill over into science. What could I write about that would put a fun twist on the presidential race?

Kids love animals. Clearly, we’re the only creatures that cast ballots, but animals must have some way of choosing their leaders, right? I set off to write this article with that thought in mind, but quickly learned that “choosing” isn’t the easiest thing to define when it comes to animals, and neither is the concept of a “leader.” I spoke with half a dozen scientists about the very different worlds of baboons, bees, fish, and elephants.

My favorite interview by far was with George Wittemyer. I spent a week trying to find someone to talk to about elephants — but everyone, it seemed, was in Africa and not available. Until George returned my email and gave me a number to try to reach him in Kenya. The first time, we couldn’t hear each other over the static, but when I tried again the next morning, the signal was clear.

In a hushed voice, George said, “I’m actually out in the field with them right now. I’m watching elephants walk by me as we speak. The matriarch’s in the back of this group that we’re watching. They can lead from behind.”

I was sitting cross-legged on my couch in Massachusetts. It was 7 am and gray outside. But if I closed my eyes I could almost feel like I was out there on the savannah, too, watching herds of elephants…

Odyssey Magazine | Baboon for President

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