Trunk call: elephants & mobile phones | University of Oxford
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Trunk call: elephants & mobile phones

Pete Wilton

What can we do to understand and help Africa's elephants?

According to this week's Current Biology one approach is to give elephants mobile phones.

Not, as you might think, for them to make emergency calls on at the first sign of poachers but rather mobiles that are attached to sensors on the animal to automatically text their whereabouts and regular status reports.

Fritz Vollrath of Oxford's Department of Zoology is amongst those using such techniques to investigate elephants' survival tactics. He has worked with Iain Douglas Hamilton of Save the Elephants for many years to monitor the behaviour of Kenya's pachyderms.

The animals, it seems, have reacted to an increasingly threatening environment by changing their behaviour: travelling through unsafe territory only at night and very fast - so avoiding conflict with man.

This change appears to be giving elephant populations in Kenya a boost. 'We at Save the Elephants have evidence that elephant populations have been on the rise ever since 1989 in Tsavo, and in Samburu, Mara and Amboseli,' Fritz comments. 'This does not mean that we are not worried by a potential resurgence in ivory poaching... but it does give grounds for cautious optimism.'

Overall, he says, the outlook for wildlife in Northern Kenya looks good with organisations and local communities working together towards the same conservation goals - spurred on, in part, by the gleaming carrot of tourist revenue set to reward successful conservation projects.

It's one example at least of how appreciating the value of wildlife (both in cultural and economic terms) can help humans and animals to live side by side.