London, Dec 26 (ANI): Scientists have fit some of the most notorious crop-raiding elephants in Kenya with collars which contain a mobile phone SIM card that sends warning text messages alerting rangers that herds of the animals are about to raid farmers' fields.
The scheme was set up by 'Save The Elephants', a UK-registered charity based in Kenya, which is now expanding the 'geo-fencing' programme from its pilot at Ol Pejeta to five other sites across Kenya.
According to a report in the Telegraph, the mobile phone SIM card sends an hourly GPS position to a central server in Nairobi, Kenya's capital.
If the elephants stray close to a virtual 'fence' whose limits have been programmed into customized software, a text message is sent to the mobile phone of the closest wildlife rangers.
They then scramble vehicles carrying spotlights and armed guards to scare the elephants away from the fields, before they strip villages of a year's maize or banana harvest in one night.
"At first, I could not believe that the elephant was sending me a text message," said Richard Lesowapir, one of the senior rangers involved in the scheme.
"But, now we see it is definitely the most effective way for us to find them quickly and stop them destroying the farmers' livelihoods," he added.
"They would come to the village every night. They would finish one field completely and then move on to the next one," said Basilia Mwasu, who owns a half-acre plot of maize plants.
"We tried to scare them off with shouting or burning rags soaked in paraffin, but they would make a terrible noise and charge at us. Many times I thought we would die," she added.
According to Batian Craig, conservation and security manager at the Ol Pejeta conservancy, "There used to be three or four groups going out every night and raiding a dozen or more farmers' fields."
"We tried everything we could, bigger electric fences, planting chilies which we'd heard repelled elephants elsewhere. Nothing worked until we fitted the collars," he added.
Since then, there has not been a single case of an elephant straying out of the conservancy and destroying a farmer's crop.
"Now they stay on their side and we stay on ours, and we know that we can live together," said Mwasu.
The technology also allows conservationists to track elephants as they move between grazing areas, and to create maps visible on Google Earth to build up data on where to send anti-poaching patrols to best protect the vulnerable animals. (ANI)