Save the Elephants: Geofencing

Elephants are crafty creatures, and keeping them in reserves where they can be protected and out of nearby agricultural crops is the goal of the Geofencing Project at the Save the Elephants Foundation, based in Kenya. Elephants who roam off reserves into agricultural fields can wipe out crops and enrage farmers, who, to protect their fields, are prone to shoot the elephant. With elephant numbers in dramatic decline, Save the Elephants aims to track elephants to ensure they do not enter an area where their actions might increase their risk of harm as a basic step in elephant conservation. 

Geofencing works by essentially creating a virtual fence line in a GIS system and then setting up a series of sensors in the field and/or on a physical fence that delineates reserve vs non-reserve areas. When the elephant, fitted with a collar containing a safaricom cell phone SIM card, crosses the geofence, a message is sent to a cell carrier server, generating and sending an alert to rangers with the name and coordinates of the elephant which  crossed the geofence. Armed with this information, rangers can quickly intercept the elephant and guide it back into the protected area, and have been doing so since 2014. There are some potential critiques and unresolved questions of the geofencing system and project itself, the most pressing of which is how quickly farmers can actually reach elephants that have wandered off the reserve. If rangers cannot reach the elephant quick enough, the elephant is still at high risk of being shot. In a meta review of mitigation strategies for elephant-induced crop damage, virtual fences like this were shown to have low efficacy. This could be due to multiple factors, but calls into question what more needs to be done to compliment geo-fencing to make it truly effective. 

Jachowski, D. S., Slotow, R., & Millspaugh, J. J. (2014). “Good virtual fences make good neighbors: opportunities for conservation.”

Denninger Snyder, K., & Rentsch, D. (2020). “Rethinking assessment of success of mitigation strategies for elephant‐induced crop damage“. 


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