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Elephants send text messages to rangers in Kenya

By Chris V. Thangham     Oct 11, 2008 in Technology
Elephants in Kenya are sending text messages to warn owners about their location. Wildlife service officials have installed SIM cards on elephants’ collars to beam messages whenever they approach a “geo fence” global positioning location.
In Kenya and other parts of Africa, wild elephants cause immense destruction in farming areas and raid villagers’ crops, especially during the harvest period. In some cases they destroy six months of farmers’ income at a time. So wildlife service officials wanted to tackle this problem with the help of GPS technology.
The officials installed a mobile phone SIM card in one of the elephants, Kimani, that raided the local farms. They then installed a virtual “geofence” using a global positioning system to mark the boundaries of the areas to be protected. Whenever Kimani approaches this geofence, his electronic collar sends a text message to the rangers, who then drive away Kimani and his group of elephants.
With this experiment, they were able to intercept Kimani 15 times. He used to frequently raid the crops on a nightly basis, but now he has not appeared for almost four months.
This method also is used to protect the elephants, as their population numbers are dwindling. Without the electronic collar experiment, the Kenya Wildlife Service had to reluctantly kill the frequently raiding elephants. With electronic collars they can avoid killing the elephants, thanks to the efforts of “The Save the Elephants” and "Olpejeta Conservancy" groups.
Thus it helps to protect the elephants and the livelihood of farmers, who rely entirely on these crops for their survival. Previously, Basila Mwasu, a 31-year-old mother of two, and her neighbors used drum with the help of pots and pans and set fires to drive the elephants away; now they can farm and live peacefully.
The GPS tracking uses Google Earth software and the officials are able to track the elephant’s routes and sometimes use them to assign guards to protect the elephants from poaching.
Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of Save the Elephants, said it is a long way to go for this project to be successful but they have high hopes for it. They have set up two geofences so far in Kenya, but they are having problems with collar batteries, which wear out every few years. Placing collars on elephants are also expensive but the group is doing their best.
Iain told AP this system helps not only control the main elephant but also its group. Usually the elephants learn from their leader and other members in the group. If one of them stops raiding the crops, then others follow as well.
He said: "We can live together...Elephants have the right to live, and we have the right to live too."
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