Thursday, October 23, 2014
Last updated: 9 hours ago

UBC student uses satellite technology in elephant conservation effort

Photo Matt Biddulph / Flickr

UBC PhD candidate Jake Wall is tracking elephants with the hopes of improving conservation efforts. Photo Matt Biddulph / Flickr

UBC PhD candidate Jake Wall has adapted satellite tracking technology to help protect endangered African elephants.

Wall’s research looks into elephant needs of food, space, connectivity with the environment, security and water.

According to Wall, his research, and that of the Save the Elephants organization which he works with in Kenya “focuses on the movement ecology of elephants — their spatial distribution, range and habitat.”

The researchers attach satellite tracking collars around the necks of the elephants. Wall’s tracking system monitors the animals through live data feeds that detect changes in their behavioural patterns.

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The data funnels through Google Earth into a network of Kenyan and South African conservation and management partners.

“We hope this technology will help deter poachers because they know we are monitoring these elephants closely,” Wall said.

The data feeds can quickly alert rangers of animals in danger through changes in their daily patterns of movement.

According to Wall, upgrading to lighter and more efficient tracking equipment could improve coordination with rangers for conservation efforts.

For example, the use of heart monitors could provide more detailed information on tracked animals’ health.

According to a study by the Wildlife Conservation Society, 65 per cent of Central Africa’s forest elephants died between 2002 and 2013.

“It’s really important for the world to know what’s happening to elephants right now,” said Wall. “It’s tragic that many people in this world don’t see the inherent value of keeping a wild elephant alive versus killing it for its tusks.”

Wall hopes to continue his animal conservation efforts outside of Africa.

“I’m hoping we can start to work with other researchers and adapt [the tracking technology] to monitor blue whales swimming in shipping lanes, or polar bears walking into Churchill, Manitoba,” he said. “Or we could know right away when migrating birds break a virtual ‘geofence’ boundary and fly near wind turbines.”