Caitlin O’Connell, author of “Wild Rituals: 10 Lessons Animals Can Teach Us about Connection, Community, and Ourselves”

by | Mar 10, 2021

Caitlin O’Connell—a noted scientist who’s spent much of her career studying elephants and their communication, and author of several books, most recently “Wild Rituals: 10 Lessons Animals Can Teach Us about Connection, Community, and Ourselves”—addresses some of her varied professional pursuits, including a NASA project that involved the Space Station, that had prompted me, tongue partly in cheek, to dub her “a Renaissance Woman.” O’Connell explains that the NASA endeavor represented something of a detour from her work with elephants, which recently has focused on the animals’ middle ear and how bone conduction may have implications for human hearing aids. She also recounts another professional pursuit that partly accounted for the “Renaissance Woman” tag—that, in addition to writing a number of books that are highly serious, research-oriented (she’s taught scientific writing), she’s penned fiction: novels that are set in the bush, and draw on her many years living and studying in Africa…still, kind of unusual for a PhD scientist with ties to Harvard and Stanford.  She discusses the impetus for writing her latest book, “Wild Rituals,” while noting that the pandemic has wrought major changes to many of the 10 types of rituals she highlights in the book—to Grieving most of all; Covid-19 has generated a staggering number of deaths, so a lot more grieving, as well as altering the kind of grieving—people haven’t been able to attend conventional funerals or other services. In this portion of the conversation, O’Connell observes that, pandemic notwithstanding, many of us are not adept at grieving, citing as lessons we can take amidst the animal world examples from “Wild Rituals,” of how some captive elephants and wild zebras mourned the loss of a family member. She adds that other important rituals emphasized in the book have also been notably altered by the pandemic, including Courtship Rituals, Play Rituals, and Rituals of Travel & Migration. O’Connell also fields some intriguing questions and reflections from callers.  (,,

ALSO: I spoke briefly with Aubry Walch, co-founder with her brother, Kale, of The Herbivorous Butcher, the country’s first vegan butcher shop. This Minneapolis-based business has been flourishing during the pandemic (they ship their food anywhere in the U.S.), and in a classic David & Goliath confrontation, the Walch siblings vanquished no less a corporate behemoth than Nestle, which had sought to trademark phrases that included the words “vegan butcher.” Walch also elaborated on the recent announcement that they’re launching a new enterprise, Herbie Butcher’s Fried Chicken, which will serve vegan fried chicken and all the plant-based fixings. She also noted they intend to open multiple locations of Herbie Butcher’s, extending their reach to other states, and at some point, their plans include starting additional casual dining outlets offering other vegan fare. (,,

COMEDY CORNER:  Paul F. Tompkins’ “Alternative Pets” (

MUSIC: Rebekah Pulley’s “Talking Animals Theme,” instrumentals

NAME THAT ANIMAL TUNE: We didn’t play “Name That Animal Tune” today.


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