From Counting to Tracking: A 'Fitbit' for Elephants

We were thrilled this week to be among the first panels announced for the 2014 SXSW Eco Conference. Our panel is called called: A Fitbit to Save the Elephants and will focus on how new technology, data streams and big-data analysis can  inform efforts to manage and conserve elephants and other important wildlife populations. 

While the Great Elephant Census is relying on aerial surveys to create an accurate count of elephants, the team is also using tracking technology to learn more about the habits of elephant populations.

Dr. Mike Chase and a team member work to attach a tracking collar to an elephant. 

Dr. Mike Chase and a team member work to attach a tracking collar to an elephant. 

Current tracking technology involves heavy, expensive collars that require the elephants to be sedated so they can be attached.

The same technological improvements that are making phones smaller, tougher and more powerful, hold promise for better gadgets to track elephants. Also, new sensors and wireless connections could lower the cost and improve the amount of information that researchers can gather about elephants. The same kinds of technology that people are using to track and understand their fitness can be evolved to help illuminate the lives of elephant populations. 

From left, Frank Pope and Ian Douglas-Hamilton of Save The Elephants, an Stuart Graham of Vulcan Inc. were among the experts that gathered in Seattle recently to discuss wildlife tracking technology. 

From left, Frank Pope and Ian Douglas-Hamilton of Save The Elephants, an Stuart Graham of Vulcan Inc. were among the experts that gathered in Seattle recently to discuss wildlife tracking technology. 

We recently gathered a group of elephant researchers, wildlife experts and technologists in Seattle to share ideas and develop new thinking about how to track elephants and other animals. 

As part of the Census, we will be looking for opportunities develop new solutions and test some of these ideas. In October, we'll be sharing some of what we learn at the SXSW Eco Conference. 

We hope that you get a chance to join us in Austin, Texas, to hear new technology and data can fundamentally change our approach to conservation and catalyze efforts to conserve wildlife.