Book Review: Modoc – by Ralph Helfer

One night in 1896 in a small village in the Black Forest in Germany, a boy and a girl were born. The boy was named Bram. The girl was named Modoc. The boy was a human. The girl an elephant.

Being born within a few hours of each other on the same farm, they became best friends, spent their entire lives together, from their childhood and youth in a small backwater circus in the south of Germany, to India, and finally to the United States. Both died at the age of 72, first Bram, and a few days later Modoc.

The story reads like a novel, full of suspense that keeps you turning the pages, with glorious successes and devastating setbacks. Bram and Modoc get separated a few times, sometimes just for a matter of days, then later for years, only to somehow find each other again, sometimes miraculously.

I have read books about dogs and whales before and I was amazed how much I learned about those species, their capabilities and their intelligence. This was the first about elephants. I learned a tremendous amount about the training and domestication of elephants reading Modoc, and it changed the way I think about them.

Rating: ***

The author is a famous animal trainer, Ralph Helfer, who leads us through the lives of Bram and Modoc. If I had stopped with the rating of the book above, all would have been fine. Since Helfer advertises it as a “true story” I noticed some inconsistencies and odd facts when I read the book. So I did some research afterwards. Apparently there is a firestorm of press out there about readers being misled, thinking they are reading a true story or documentary, but it’s really just fiction.

Rather than regurgitating this information,  here is a good summary link about the book and its research.

Judge for yourself.  If you’re going to read Modoc, though, I recommend you read the book first, then read the press about it. You’ll enjoy the experience more.

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