“Talking to the Animals,” the first chapter of Margery Facklam’s Wild Animals, Gentle Women, traces the development of human interest in animal behavior from prehistoric times to the creation of the field of ethology under the tutelage of Konrad Lorenz. In the chapters that follow, Facklam describes the tenacity of the eleven women she profiles as they overcome social, physical, and political obstacles in order to gain access to the animals. She shows their patience as they spend long hours letting the animals become habituated to their presence, as well as their insights into the implications of the animal behaviors they observed.
Belle Benchley and Ruth Harkness both became involved with animals by accident. Benchley started as an accountant at the San Diego Zoo before she began working with the animals, promoting lifelike habitats and careful observation. Benchley believed that only intelligent observers could judge the intelligence of animals. After her explorer husband died, Harkness took over an expedition into China to bring back the mysterious panda. She succeeded only when she ignored official channels, hiked into excruciatingly difficult terrain, and captured an infant animal that seemed to be orphaned.
Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas were all encouraged by the famous African anthropologist Louis Leakey, who urged them to study primates partly because all three lacked formal training and could observe...
(The entire section is 499 words.)