Elephants fitted with SIM cards so they can text their whereabouts to animal lovers

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The Independent Online

Animal lovers around the world will soon be able to go online and track their favourite elephants as they move around the Kenyan bush through mobile phone technology.

Animal lovers around the world will soon be able to go online and track their favourite elephants as they move around the Kenyan bush through mobile phone technology.

Elephants in some national parks are being fitted with SIM card collars that send a text message telling wardens exactly where the elephants are every hour. That information will soon be available over the internet, and accessible to people who choose to sponsor an animal or make a donation to charity.

"People can go online and see where 'their' elephant is at any time of day or night," said Mark Jenkins, senior warden at Meru National Park, which is about to introduce the technology. "It should be a very useful tool for fundraising." The technology will be also used to track the elephants' migration routes through the Kenyan bush, and alert wardens to any threat from poachers. If they pick up signals that one elephant has become separated from its herd, they can follow it to make sure it is not in any danger.

Environmentalists also hope the collars will provide information that will help local farmers plant crops away from the main elephant paths that criss-cross the country.

Kenya's elephant population fell from 167,000 in 1973 to just 16,000 in 1989 as poachers killed thousands of animals for their tusks. A ban on ivory trading and careful policing has helped the population to grow again, but the rising numbers have brought new conflicts with the local people who live near their grazing areas.

"We are delighted the population is growing again after years of poaching, but we have to recognise that for an elephant a field of maize and sorghum is as irresistible as a sweet shop for a child," said Mr Jenkins .

Most of Kenya's wild areas have no mobile signal, but the national operator, Safaricom, has promised to install mobile phone masts near the elephants' natural habitats. Local people welcome the fact that they will soon be able to use mobile phones in their areas, but are slightly bemused that the technology was installed primarily for elephants.

A similar technology is also being used to track rhinos. By 1989, all but one of the Meru's 300 rhinos had been killed by poachers, who sold their horns as medicines and charms in Asia. Now, in a new rhino sanctuary, wardens have inserted tiny transmitters inside the horns.

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