OL PEJETA, Kenya – The text message from the elephant flashed across Richard Lesowapir’s screen: Kimani was heading for neighboring farms.
The huge 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. Lesowapir, an armed guard and a driver arrived in a jeep 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” 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 mobile phone 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.