New Internationalist

SIM cards for elephants

elephants [Related Image]
Within a decade, elephants could be extinct in Africa. Whispering Crane Institute under a Creative Commons Licence

As the fight to stop poachers in Kenya becomes increasingly militarized, the Kenyan government and the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) are also attempting to dissuade poachers through non-violent means.

A new bill is awaiting presidential approval and could become law within a few days. Using financial incentives, it is designed to encourage communities and private landowners to protect, and not kill, elephants.

The bill will also stipulate that harsher penalties should be served to those charged with poaching. Currently, small fines are the only deterrent for poachers, and when the business of elephant and rhino tusk smuggling is so lucrative, there is little to lose.

Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) have been monitoring elephants’ movements using mobile phone technology since 2005 as part of a wider campaign to ensure that wild animal trophies – elephants tusks, rhino horns, animal skin and teeth – are not smuggled into the illicit global market where demand is growing, especially from China.

SIM cards with secret codes are fitted to all elephants’ tusks. Should poachers remove the tusk from an elephant, the wildlife protection officers are still able to track the tusk and even the poachers.

The devices are also able to sense when and where the animal is attacked or is in danger so that rangers can move into the area to help save elephants lives.

‘Most of these efforts are in addition to what we traditionally do as wildlife management, such as monitoring, research, translocations, anti-poaching and other security measures’ says William Kiprono, director of KWS.

A handful of the largest parks in Kenya including Tsavo East and West National Parks and Aberdare National Park still contain viable ecosystems and wildlife populations. These include a small population of 631 black rhinos, 390 southern white rhinos and four northern white rhinos.

To help protect animal wildlife, the country has 29 elephant range areas, four marine parks and reserves, four national sanctuaries and 125 field stations outside the protected areas system. Wildlife protection staff are stretched to capacity.

Kenya loses over 365 elephants for their tusks annually, according to official statistics. The actual figure is thought to be up to three times higher. The country’s current elephant population is estimated at 30,000 compared to 167,000 in 1979.

The mortality rate is four per cent compared to a growth rate of two per cent meaning that within 10 years elephants could be extinct in Kenya and the rest of Africa. An urgent response to poaching is therefore required to prevent a further decline of elephant numbers and the negative impact it has on the Kenyan economy.

Kiprono explains that there are other challenges facing the KWS in maintaining animal populations: inadequate national data on the status of wildlife, loss of clear national land use policy, high human-elephant conflict, and effects of climate change.

Human-elephant conflict has been exacerbated as unplanned settlements and farms continue to encroach on and fragment wildlife habitats. Injuries to humans and property have increased, resulting in costly compensation lawsuits, payouts and revenge killings of the animals, says Kiprono. The proposed bill therefore could have a far-wider reaching impact than reducing the rate of poaching.

Elephants also benefit communities as a tourist attraction: many people stay in Kenya’s hotels and lodges just because of the presence of healthy wildlife populations. So it is in local residents’ interest to value the animals and create safe havens to protect them from poachers.

The plight of elephant populations has inspired groups and individuals around the world. For example, following his Kenyan research scientist and elephant specialist Jim Nyamu embarked on a journey covering 900 kilometres by foot to raise awareness that elephants face extinction.

Nyamu’s walk began in the US on 4 September in Boston, Massachusetts and ended in Washington DC on 4 October on the day of the International March for Elephants. He has since begun a 2,500 kilometre walk back in Africa. With the message ‘Ivory Belongs to Elephants’ emblazoned on his t-shirt he calls upon individual citizens, communities, policymakers and the private sector to help in the fight against poaching.

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  1. #1 sean the man of Sheffield 10 Dec 13

    we have to stop these scum killing pachyderms..now

  2. #2 Pedro 12 Dec 13

    Full support, i just told my girlfriend about the same idea and is nice to find that it is already in use.
    I also think that all the country s should support wildlife, financial, technology, resources, ( example : all country's should deploy military's , like 250 each country , with 4x4 and helicopters for surveillance of forest and wildlife, Amazonian needs help all Africa wildlife needs help, all wildlife in this planet needs help, protection , we humans, animals also need the wildlife for living. Shell and other oil company's should also give financial support, MOTHER NATURE NEEDS HELP FROM ALL OF US WITH ARE PART OF HER SO WE BE HELPING OURSELVES. No one in this planet will be fully happy, in is life time , when we reach harmony with nature we will get in harmony with ourselves. I am 32 years old in all my life time i did not see the governments taking serious the protection of our planet they are to busy thinking on money and oil. TIME TO WAKE UP .

  3. #3 vicci shaw 12 Dec 13

    Animals where here first before any human being ever existed .. Now it looks like human beings have taken over the space and habitat of the animals and are ruining this planet . We need to respect the animal kingdom and treat the animals as equals . with all the money funding wars and weapons we could use this to fund wildlife protection .
    some thing needs to be done about poaching and it has to be done on both sides .. in africa and in china ( jail < massive penalties for people who purchase ivory , horn or any animal parts) . I am lucky enough to have grown up going to kruger national park and seeing animals from a young age i have always respected and loved all animals it makes my heart sore that not every one realises that we are equals and animals have the same rights or even more to live here on earth in harmony with humans and humans in harmony with animal . Earth would be a misery without all our animals and for those animals made extinct already by humanity i am so sorry u still should be here with us i wish it never happened .

  4. #4 Jim Nyamu 04 Jan 14

    African elephants continue decreasing due to poaching trend, encroachment to elephant habitats and climate change. We are at loggerheads with development agencies as most of African Nations require development such as road network among others. We have lost over 30,000 elephants in less than one and half years in Africa and if this trend continues the rest of half a million elephants left in Africa will be no more.

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About the author

Henry Owino a New Internationalist contributor

Henry Owino is a freelance journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya. He holds a BA in Communications from Daystar University, Kenya. Mr Owino worked with Nation Media Group, Broadcast Division, NTV in Kenya before becoming an independent journalist. He is trained and specializes in investigative journalism, science, health, environment and agriculture. He also writes widely about gender and governance.

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