Canadian author, Eric Walters’, 2018 novel, Elephant Secret, combines themes of conservation and cloning. This newest novel for an upper elementary audience is the hundredth book that Walters has published.
There are strong characters in this realistic adventure story. Sam, short for Samantha, lives with her father on their elephant sanctuary where they care for eleven elephants that they have “rescued”. Elephants have strong social instincts, care and grieve for one another like family. Sam and her father are trusted by the animals and essentially become part of the elephant “family”. In order to maintain the sanctuary, Sam’s father is always struggling to make ends meet. When a wealthy, anonymous benefactor takes a financial interest in the refuge, he is grateful for the help. However, Jimmy Mercury turns out to be a millionaire on a mission. At great expense, he has retrieved the DNA of the extinct woolly mammoth and has successfully cloned a baby mammoth using one of their female elephants. Jimmy is used to paying for what he wants, and becomes a bully to protect his investment. He makes some disastrous decisions without understanding the needs of either the humans or the animals at the sanctuary.
Themes of animal rights, endangerment, conservation, death and loss (both animal and human) add depth to the story. The ethical issues of cloning are not fully explored but the story opens the discussion and an opportunity for further research by readers interested in this topic. What would be the issues if we had the technology to re-establish extinct species?
Readers will cheer for Sam’s courage when she stands up for herself and her animals.