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When I sat down with Iain Douglas-Hamilton at his home in Nairobi to learn how he went from deploying the first radio collars on elephants in 1968 to deploying the first GPS collars on them in 1995, he told me about an elephant named Parsitau. “We put a prototype on him and it lasted for all of 10 days, and we thought this was absolutely the cat’s whiskers.”

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Recording four locations per day, those 40 GPS points were the first ever recorded on an animal in Africa. “It was so incredible,” Douglas-Hamilton recalled. “Here was a collar that would go across international borders, work by day, by night, inside forest, outside forest, up hills, down hills.” Plus, GPS was far more precise than radio or traditional Argos satellite tracking.

Early Adopters: In March 2016, Save The Elephants (STE) and the Kenya Wildlife Service collared 10 elephants to assess how the animals were adapting to a new railway bisecting Tsavo National Park. Specifically, they wanted to see if the elephants would use a series of underpasses that the construction company had been persuaded to include. Within 30 days, half of them had. “The future of Africa is here,” says STE’s Frank Pope. “We want Kenya to be the first place in the world to plan development with wildlife in mind. We want to get this right from the start.Courtesy of Save the Elephants
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Today, the breakthroughs are still coming. Just a few years ago, Douglas-Hamilton’s research and conservation organization, Save The Elephants, partnered with Google to develop a way for GPS locations to feed directly into Google Earth. And they have since created their own real-time tracking app for phones and tablets in partnership with Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and his company, Vulcan.

Search Technology: In 2008, STE deployed GPS collars on nine elephants in southern Mali. Here we see two individuals making their annual counter-clockwise migration in search of food and water. The researchers hope to protect 11 areas (circled) crucial to the elephants’ survival.Courtesy of Save the Elephants

Douglas-Hamilton was reviewing the latest collar data from Tsavo on his laptop one of the nights we met. “We haven’t had these collars on for three days,” he said, “and two of the elephants have already crossed the railway. I nearly died when I saw this! There’s Manyani. She was collared up there, streaked down, crossed, and fled to safety. And guess where safety was?” Douglas-Hamilton pointed to a building beside the road. “This is the main Kenya Wildlife Service ranger training station. Look, she’s within 500 meters of it. She’s found the human beings she likes. That’s hot stuff from the horse’s mouth.”

Save The Elephants currently has more than 300 active collars across eight African countries. New stories appear in the tracks every day.

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What Is Safe?: In 2011 and 2012, more than 30 elephants were poached in the regions south of Samburu in a span of three months. Kulling’s family was almost certainly aware of these dangers and took evasive action to the northwest, where there was water in the dry season and relative security.Courtesy of Save the Elephants

The elephants of Samburu spend more than half the year outside the reserve boundaries. In the box above, we show where an elephant named Kulling spent the last three years of her life. Some of her favorite areas included Loijuk Swamp and various spots along the Ewaso Ng’iro River.

In early 2016, Kulling was shot by nomadic herders. Loijuk Swamp had water for the first time in 10 years, drawing both wild elephants and the young herders, who had brought their livestock to drink. The elephants scared them, so they shot, hitting and killing Kulling.

STE thinks education is key to resolving human-animal conflict. A few weeks after Kulling died, STE met with herders and elders from the Loijuk community to share a meal and recall the old ways of liv- ing in peace with elephants.

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“My god, there’s a lot of turtles on here,” said Lucy Hawkes, a member of the Marine Turtle Research Group at the University of Exeter. She was scrolling through a database of their active tracking projects: “We’ve got Ascension, North Carolina, British Virgin Islands, Cape Verde, Cayman Islands, Mexico, Cyprus, Dominican Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Israel, Kuwait, Lampedusa—that’s Italy—Mozambique, Guadalupe, Montserrat, Oman, Peru, [she takes a breath] Scotland, Turkey, Sri Lanka, and Greece.” Total number of tags deployed: 443 and counting.

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A Sea of Parks?: Archie Carr, one of the pioneers of sea turtle track- ing, defined a tenet of movement ecology: to protect animals you need to protect where they go. Using low-tech flipper tags, he proved that green turtles nesting on Ascension Island swam due west to Brazil to forage in 1962. Those two spots encompass most of their adult lives, and soon, both will be Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Elsewhere in the world, sea turtles aren’t as lucky. Six of the seven species are endangered or vulnerable. One solution: smaller but highly targeted MPAs. Another: dynamic reserves that kick in when turtles arrive in their seasonal ranges—protection that moves with the turtles.Lucy Hawkes, University of Exeter; Graeme Hays, Deakin University (Chagos); Nuria Varo-Cruz, Universidad De Las Palmas (Canary Islands); Annette Broderick and Brendan Godley, University of Exeter (Cyprus); Gebco; Gshhg; Ne; Gadm

One of her first traveled on a loggerhead turtle named Fisher. In 1995, biologists from the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher found him on a nearby beach. He was weak and underweight, so they brought him to the aquarium’s rehabilitation center. Eight years later, Fisher was 40 kilograms and outgrowing his adoptive home.

His caretakers loaned him to Newport Aquarium in Kentucky for an exhibit presciently titled Turtles: Journey of Survival. By his 10th birthday, Fisher tipped the scales at 70 kilograms. He was ready to hunt in the wild. On June 12, 2004, Hawkes stuck a tag on Fisher’s shell and released him into the Atlantic. She expected him to ride the Gulf Stream to Spain.

But Fisher had other plans. “He did a straight line to Cape Verde,” Hawkes said, “which, bizarrely, is exactly where he should be at 10 years old. It was as if he thought, ‘I’ve got to catch up with everyone.’ ” Imagine that. After 10 years in captivity, Fisher knew where he needed to be, at what time, and how to get there.

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Reprinted from Where the Animals Go: Tracking Wildlife with Technology in 50 Maps and Graphics by James Cheshire and Oliver Uberti. Copyright © 2017 by James Cheshire and Oliver Uberti. With permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

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