Even though they are an endangered species, African elephants are often perceived as pests. With their habitat shrinking and human development getting closer and closer, the number of clashes between humans and elephants grows every year. This makes it harder to solicit local support to protect the elephants, a critical element of protecting the giant animals from poachers who want their ivory tusks.
The simple text message could solve that problem.
Like many endangered species, elephants in Kenya are often fitted with radio collars to track their movements. The group Save the Elephants decided to put these radio collars to better use. They installed a mobile phone SIM cards in one elephant's collar, connecting it with nearby mobile networks. Whenever then elephant strayed outside of its "approved" territory and approached human crops, rangers received a text message warning them that the elephant was on the way.
The idea has been a success. The elephant used to raid farmers' crops almost nightly. Now, after being intercepted 15 times, it has learned to stay away.
The experiment, which may soon be repeated with other elephants, is just one example of how important mobile-phone technologies have become in Africa. Creating hard-line telecommunications systems in remote areas is too expensive, so many areas of Africa are "leapfrogging" over traditional phone systems and embracing mobile technologies. This will also create a similar leapfrog for sustainable energy, as the base stations needed to transmit mobile signals increasingly use solar, wind and biofuels for power, rather than unreliable or non-existent energy grids.
All around, this is a success story not just for elephants but for all of Africa. Let's hope it keeps a few elephants from creating problems, and from getting killed.