Elephants Fitted with GPS Tracking Collars to Thwart Ivory Tusks Poaching

20 Feb 2014

Researchers in Kenya stop ivory poachers with GPS tracking technology for their rapidly declining population of elephants.

In Nairobi, Kenya and surrounding areas, the elephant population is dwindling at a rapid pace. Much of this is due to poachers that harm the elephants for the ivory tusks of the animals, similar to poachers who slaughter rhinos for their horns, which are used for medicinal and narcotics purposes.

Locals have called it a “rapidly escalating environmental crime wave” and researchers in the area are hoping to put a stop to it with modern technology.

Two organizations – the United Nations Environmental Program and Interpol – are working together on a project to put a stop to this and other environmental crimes. These crimes not only put the environment and its living creatures at risk, but cost up to billions of dollars every year. Five hundred researchers and other experts and law enforcement agencies in Nairobi are working diligently on this problem.

The killing of elephants and rhinos in Africa has escalated in the last few years, reaching 17,000 elephants in 2011 alone and 35,000 in 2012. The threat to elephant extinction is so real that President Obama recently announced an executive order ban the commercial sale of ivory.

In The White House National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking, President Obama writes:

“Because of the actions of poachers, species like elephants and rhinoceroses face the risk of significant decline or even extinction. But it does not have to be that way.”

The demand for ivory rises as the economy struggles and the middle class in China and other areas fund these exhibitions. To date, there at least two known smuggling rings in China that have been busted for around $100 million worth of ivory from elephants poached in both Africa and China, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). There have also been over 700 tusks taken from Chinese traders in Tanzania.

According to the president of the IFAW, Azzedine Downes, “If range-state countries are willing to commit to enforcement that works across national boundaries, our supporters in non-range states are willing to step up and help fund those efforts.” This is what has led to new projects being developed that use GPS tracking technology.

The project will include 15 tracked elephants using GPS collars. These will not harm the elephants, but track their every move through Google Earth. Researchers can watch the elephant’s location and movement, including if and when they stray into areas that poachers tend to frequent. They will send in drones if this happens to try and protect the elephants that have wandered a little too far. A button labeled “Take Off” sends the drones to the area to divert elephants and spot the poachers on the horizon. The elephants don’t like the sound of the drones, thinking they are bees, so they are able to run off and escape.

In addition to the GPS tracking collars, the Nairobi government is also employing an anti-poaching team to shoot any armed poachers they find on sight and will implant tracking microchips in the horns of some rhinos so they can track any poachers that reach them.

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