Book Review – In the Womb: Animals

In the Womb: Animals (cover)National Geographic has recently released a very interesting book for animal lovers. In the Womb: Animals by Michael Sims, explores the fascinating development from conception to birth of a golden retriever, a bottlenose dolphin, and an Asian elephant.

Beautifully illustrated with ultrasound images of these animals as embryos and fetuses, the book highlights the development of unique physical characteristics that the animals will come to rely on once out of womb.

For example, one section showcases the elephant fetus after four months. At this point, the trunk is recognizable, but it will need the full 18 more months in the womb to continue developing. Once out of the womb, the elephant will use this strong, highly dexterous snout to pick foliage, carry objects, suck water, and use as a snorkel while swimming.

The author also touches upon physical characteristics that provide clues about the animals’ ancestry.  For example, at 3-4 weeks, the dolphin fetus develops hind limbs which later retract and disappear. This suggests that dolphins may have evolved from four-legged land animals.

Intertwined with the three main stories are captivating glimpses into the development and behavior of red kangaroos, emperor penguins, sand tiger and lemon sharks, and parasitic wasps. These mini stories reveal the extraordinary journeys these animals make before they’re even born, as well as provide interesting points of comparison to the three main characters.

It is a fascinating read for animal lovers, but parents should note that reproductive behavior is covered in detail.

Dog fetus from In the Womb: Animals

Dolphin fetus from In the Womb: Animals

Elephant fetus from In the Womb: Animals

The book, In the Womb: Animals, is available at

You may also be interested in purchasing the documentary DVD, In the Womb: Animals.

Study Shows Elephants Lead Shorter Lives in Zoos

African Elephant

Researchers from the journal Science have concluded that elephants in European zoos have shorter lifespans than elephants living in protected areas in Africa. Specifically, they have calculated the median lifespan for a zoo-born African elephant to be 16.9 years as compared with 56.0 years in a protected park.  Similarly, Asian elephants born in a zoo live 18.9 years as compared with 41.7 years.  Researchers have also found that although survival rates have improved in recent years, mortality rates for elephants in zoos is still significantly higher.

Causes of the shorter lifespans can be attributed to disease, infanticide, obesity, and stress.  In the wild or in protected parks, elephants are able to roam vast distances with their herd.  At zoos, space is more limited, thereby accounting for some issues like obesity and stress.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) has sharply criticized the study, noting that data was collected from only European zoos as opposed to North American zoos. Further, the AZA contends that the study is flawed because it does not take into account the many elephants who are killed by people in the wild.

For more information:
Boston Globe: Zoo elephants at far greater risk of premature death
New York Times: Critical Report on Health of Zoo Elephants Is Debated
Houston Chronicle: Elephants have shorter lives in zoos, researchers find

For more information about African elephants and what you can do to help them, read Animal Fact Guide’s article: African Elephant.