Save the Elephants is a conservation group working to protect elephants in the wild. In February 2004, they launched the Save the Elephants GSM Animal Tracking Project. Working with equipment donated by the Kenyan mobile phone company Safaricom, they developed elephant collars outfitted with GPS tags and GSM communicators set up to send text messages -- SMS -- with the pachyderm's current location. The system is cheaper than trackers relying on satellite phones, and more useful than those relying on VHF radio; GSM is easily brought onto the Internet, allowing the tagged elephants to be tracked and monitored via the web, helping researchers figure out elephant ranges and movement patterns.
A June 2004 report (PDF) lays out some benefits which will emerge from the expansion of this project:
Better fence positioning to lessen animal-human conflict in high risk zones; Re-routing animals or humans to forestall a human-animal conflict; Faster detection and action response times against potential threats; Enhanced early warning systems to detect changes in poaching levels; Better definition of sites for potential reintroduction of animals.
A woefully-devoid-of-details article in the UK's Inquirer suggests that the first of these may already be underway, with farmers near elephant migration routes given warning of nearby herds, so that the farmers can head off damage to crops.
For obvious anti-poaching reasons, the elephant location information is not available to the public. Still, this is a wonderful example of how inexpensive, ubiquitous communication technology has applications beyond simple human interaction. Save The Elephants is looking to expand the GPS-GSM project to other endangered wildlife species, such as Grevy's Zebra, the black rhino and even the big cats.
In late February, the project won the GSM Association's "Mobility in the Environment Award."
(Via Roland Piquepaille's Technology Trends, which has some more details and a link to a terrific Safaricom advertisement talking about this project.)