USING TEXTS TO SAVE KENYA'S ELEPHANTS
A group of conservationists are hoping to keep a track on the elephants in the Samburu National Park in northern Kenya, by using mobile phones, so they can send SMS messages giving their latest location through a SIM card that is fitted after an elephant has been sedated.
The operation involves shooting the elephants with tranquillisers and then heaving a huge dog-like collar under each elephant's neck. On the front of the collar, is a box containing a tiny chip which could help to unravel the mystery of where Africa's elephants roam.
The chip contains a SIM card "which enables us to follow the movements of the elephants on a minute-by-minute basis," says Ian Craig of Lewa Wildlife Conservancy Trust.
A few miles away, at a research station, elephant expert Iain Douglas-Hamilton and software engineer David Gachuche pore over a laptop screen. A map of Samburu flashes up, with dozens of tiny dots marked. Each dot represents the position of a "collared" elephant. Every hour, the SIM card sends a text with the elephant's location.
Over months, entire migration routes are being discovered. "It's important for us to learn about elephant movements, because their situation is pretty precarious," says Mr Douglas-Hamilton of Save the Elephants, a Kenya-based research organisation. "They are an animal with great demands and needs. And they're actually living with another animal with even greater demands, and that's the human species."
Over the years, Kenya's elephant population has steadily recovered. But bigger herds increase the potential for conflict with the local, human population. By mapping precise movements, the jumbos' "right-of-way" through the bush can be established.
The research has been made possible because the African bush is no longer as remote as it used to be. The massive growth in mobile telephone usage in Africa means, even in the depth of the wilderness, it is possible to make and receive mobile telephone calls. In Samburu, the mighty elephant is in fact being dwarfed by towering mobile telephone masts.
This technology is still in its infancy but it would definitely be a neat solution to a jumbo-sized problem. In future, it may be possible to warn local farmers when their crops are about to be raided by hungry jumbos. "For example, an elephant going close to a farm, could send a text message, saying: 'I'm about to invade your farm'," says software engineer Mr Gachuche.