OL PEJETA (Kenya): The text message from the elephant flashed across Richard Lesowapir’s screen: Kimani was heading for the neighbouring farms.
The bull elephant had a long history of raiding villagers’ crops during the harvest, sometimes wiping out six months of income at a time. But this time a mobile phone card inserted in his collar sent rangers a text message. Mr. Lesowapir, an armed guard and a driver arrived in a jeep bristling with spotlights to frighten Kimani back into the Ol Pejeta conservancy.
Kenya is the first country to try elephant texting as a way to protect both a growing human population and the wild animals that now have less room to roam. Elephants are ranked as “near threatened” in the Red List, an index of vulnerable species published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The race to save Kimani began two years ago. The Kenya Wildlife Service had already reluctantly shot five elephants from the conservancy who refused to stop crop-raiding, and Kimani was the last of the regular raiders. The Save the Elephants group wanted to see if he could break the habit. So they placed a SIM card in Kimani’s collar, then set up a virtual “geofence” using a global positioning system that mirrored the conservatory’s boundaries. Whenever Kimani approaches the virtual fence, his collar texts rangers. They have intercepted Kimani 15 times since the project began. Once almost a nightly raider, he last went near a farmer’s field four months ago. It is a huge relief to the small farmers who rely on their crops for food and cash for school fees. Batian Craig, the conservation and security manager at the 90,000-acre Ol Pejeta conservancy, said community development programmes are of little use if farmers do not have crops. He recalled the time when 15 families had their harvests wiped out. The elephants can be tracked through Google Earth software, helping to map and conserve the corridors they use to move from one protected area to another. The tracking also helps prevent poaching, as rangers know where to deploy resources. But the biggest bonus has been the drop in crop raiding.
6 months ago