Joyce Poole can tell you exactly why she loves elephants: They share many of our best characteristics, and avoid many of our worst. They are familiar, social and intelligent, like us, but also mysterious and foreign—and, occasionally, terrifying.

Over a long career spent studying elephants, Poole has shed new light on elephant musth (which is periodic sexual and aggressive behavior among males), infrasound communication, social learning and role models, the effects of poaching, and management issues. She is also the co-founder of ElephantVoices, a conservation non-profit that works on elephant welfare, and maintains a database of elephant sounds and gestures.

Through all of her work, her affection and respect for the elephant shines through. In this latest installment of Nautilus’ Spark of Science, Poole tells us about how she fell in love with the animal, and what it means to her. Share your own story by emailing