elephants, microchips

Will Texting Save the Elephants?

October 14, 2008 05:30 AM
by Soojung Chang
Kenya is hoping that by implanting mobile phone cards in the animals’ collars, the government will be able to protect both elephant and human populations.

Chip Implants Rein in Elephants

SIM cards implanted in elephant collars send out warnings by text message when the animals approach farms. The cards work in coordination with virtual “geofences” using a global positioning system that outlines geographic boundaries.

The Ol Pejeta conservation park in Kenya, the first country to use the technology, has long had problems with crop-raiding elephants. The animals have seen habitat encroachment due to human population growth and are currently listed as “near threatened” on the Red List of vulnerable species, put together by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

In recent years, elephants have broken past park boundary fences to raid crops on small farms nearby, and the Kenya Wildlife Service has had to shoot the offending animals. Batian Craig, the conservation and security manager at the conservancy, says that during one harvest season, 15 families lost most of their crops due to elephants.

The two-year-old microchip project has only set up two geofences so far at the Ol Pejeta park, but farmers in the area already say they are relieved that they no longer have to worry about the elephants.

One repeat offender named Kimani, became a project of Save the Elephants, which wanted to see if they could retrain the marauding animal. The group put a SIM card in Kimani’s collar, and so far, they have prevented him from encroaching on human territory 15 times.
Basila Mwasu, who lives near the conservancy, says that an elephant once stuck its trunk through a window of her house, while another killed a neighbor who was defending his crops. She and her neighbors used to create bonfires and drum on pots and pans to scare elephants away.

“We had to go into town to tell the game (wardens) to chase the elephants away or we’re going to kill them all,” Mwasu told CBS News.

Related Topics: Animals, people and microchips

Elephants aren’t the only animals benefitting from microchip technology. In 2004, the state of Colorado passed a law that made microchip implants mandatory for all dogs determined dangerous by the court.

In the United States, pets are now widely implanted with the tiny chips to protect them from theft or loss. The microchips, which are about the size of a grain of rice and are placed beneath an animal’s skin, are not tracking devices. But they can provide identification if a pet is lost or stolen.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved chip implants for people, which could save lives by providing instant access to medical records. However, an Associated Press article from 2007 warned that according to studies conducted on animals, the chips themselves may cause cancer.

As of 2007, about 2,000 radio frequency identification devices had been implanted in people worldwide, according to numbers from VeriChip Corp.

Spokesman Scott Silverman said the company was “not aware of any studies that have resulted in malignant tumors in laboratory rats, mice and certainly not dogs or cats” and added that millions of domestic pets have been implanted with microchips without serious issue.

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