Virginia Morell

Virginia Morell is a New York Times bestselling author of four books. Her latest, Animal Wise, has been widely praised as "touching and provocative," "fascinating and intellectually sweeping," and "heart- and brain-stirring." A correspondent for Science since 1990, Morell covers evolutionary biology, conservation, and animal behavior. She's also a regular contributor to National Geographic, and her writing has appeared in Slate, the New York Times Magazine, Smithsonian, Lapham's Quarterly, Conde Nast Traveler, Discover, Outside, and Best American Science and Nature Writing. Her 2004 National Geographic article on climate change was a finalist for Best Environmental Article from the Society of Environmental Journalists. She blogs at Animal Wise at Psychology Today.


Born in Southern California, Morell received a B.A. in English Literature from Pomona College in Claremont. She also has M.A. in English Literature from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and an MSc in Environmental Studies from California State University, Dominguez Hills. Her parents were great outdoor enthusiasts, who passed to her their travel skills and "itchy-feet" genes. After her studies at McGill, these travel genes seriously kicked in, and she crossed the globe to Ethiopia, where she lived for two years, teaching English composition at what was then Haile Selassie I University. Not long after her arrival, the Ethiopian Army deposed the Emperor, and gave the university the more prosaic name, The National University. Her time in Ethiopia left her with a lasting love for the country and African continent, the people and wildlife, and taught her the virtue of patience and that revolutions are not as romantic as they're made out to be in many books and movies. She has since returned numerous times to Ethiopia and other parts of Africa for her articles and books. Most recently, she has written about grieving animals, dogs that joke, monkeys that whisper, and the 2,000 wild coyotes that now populate the city of Chicago.


In addition to Animal Wise, Morell is the author of three other celebrated books. The New York Times awarded a Notable Book of the Year to Ancestral Passions, her dramatic biography of the famed Leakey family and their notable findings. Blue Nile, about her journey down the Blue Nile, from Ethiopia to Sudan, was a San Francisco Chronicle Best Travel Book. And The Washington Post listed Wildlife Wars, which she co-authored with Richard Leakey, as one of their Best Books of the Year.


An accomplished public speaker, Morell spent March 2009 as a principal lecturer for National Geographic Society’s Expeditions Program on one of its exclusive, round-the-world trips. She lives in Ashland, Oregon with her husband, writer Michael McRae, a Calico cat, Nini, and a smart, six-year-old American Working Farm Collie, Buckaroo.


Read “Animal Minds,” Virginia Morell’s National Geographic cover story that explores animal intelligence, the subject of her book Animal Wise (Crown, 2013). Elizabeth Kolbert selected this article for the Best American Science and Nature Writing 2009 (Houghton Mifflin).




Virginia Morell is available for lectures, interviews, book signings, and other promotional events. With thirty years of experience covering the sciences, Morell uses her formidable gifts as a story-teller to teach us what and how animals think, transporting us into the dazzling world of animal cognition and emotion.


Morell’s speaking engagements are represented by the Gillian MacKenzie Agency. For information and booking, contact Gillian MacKenzie at

Published work

Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures (Crown, February 2013); Wildlife Wars, My Fight to Save Africa's Natural Treasures (St. Martin’s Press, September 2001); Blue Nile: Ethiopia's River of Magic and Mystery (National Geographic Books, June 2001); Ancestral Passions, The Leakey Family and the Quest for Humankind's Beginnings (Simon and Schuster, August 1996)


AUTHOR EVENT: Virginia Morell to Speak at the Nourse Theater in San Francisco


Today, there are many scientists who recognize that humans are not unique in their ability to use tools, communicate or even to think and feel emotions. In her latest book, Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures Virginia Morell reveals an astounding capacity for ideas and feelings among wild and domestic species. She documents surprising examples of self-reflection and distinctive personality.

Virginia Morell covers evolutionary biology, conservation, and animal behavior for Science and is a regular contributor to National Geographic. Her writing has also appeared in Slate, The New York Times Magazine, Smithsonian, and elsewhere. Her books include Ancestral Passions, a dramatic biography of the famed Leakey family, and Blue Nile, about her journey down the Blue Nile, from Ethiopia to Sudan.

Virginia will be in conversation with Roy Eisenhardt who teaches at Berkeley Law and previously served as the Executive Director for the California Academy of Sciences.

Date: Wednesday, March 18th
Time: 7:30
Location: The historic Nourse Theatre at 275 Hayes Street in San Francisco
(Tickets here)