Stories tagged Kenya

We've had plenty of discussion about text messaging here on the Buzz recently. Here's a video report about a novel use of that technology in Kenya, where a wild elephant sends regular text messages about his whereabouts for an amazing reason. What I don't get is how his big hoofs and type on those little cellphone keypads.

OMG: Here's another video report on a monk seal in Greece that texts reports of her daily activities to an animal shelter that rehabbed her from injuries. And here's a link on that story to a report of a crocodile that sends text messages to scientists. What's come over these animals?


Are you tracking me?: GPS technology saved the life of an elephant in Africa last week and is being used extensively to track the migration patterns of many types of animals.
Are you tracking me?: GPS technology saved the life of an elephant in Africa last week and is being used extensively to track the migration patterns of many types of animals.Courtesy Lee R. Berger
GPS – global positioning systems – can do some amazing things. Even saving the life of an elephant.

Here’s an account of how a GPS unit spared an African elephant in Kenya from being slaughtered by irate farmers. Mountain Bull, which wears a GPS unit on around his neck, was noticed missing one day last week from his herd near Mount Kenya. Using the GPS tracking technology, his biologist observes tracked him down with a rogue pack of elephants ravaging the goodies of farm field nearby.

Efforts to rebuilt Africa’s elephant population have had the unintended consequence of putting more pressure on Kenyan agriculture. Elephant herds looking for easy food are more commonly heading to the farm field buffet.

The Kenyan Wildlife Services officials followed the GPS signal to find Mountain Bull in the sights of being exterminated by local farmers. Equipped with GPS tracking information showing that Mountain Bull had never been out looking for a farm-field free lunch before, they were able to talk the farmers into granting him mercy on this indiscretion.

While this is a pretty dramatic story of GPS coming to the aid of wildlife, biologists are using the technology in many other ways.
Integrating the GPS readings with Google Maps technology, researchers are able to map migration patterns and find out which locations are high traffic areas for different animals. Armed with that information, biologists can better target their efforts for habitat preservation and improving species numbers.

That’s all good news if you’re an African elephant; maybe not so good news if you’re a Kenyan farmer.


Tsavo Maneaters: Even scary in black and white.
Tsavo Maneaters: Even scary in black and white.
Last week I made a trip to Chicago with the sole purpose of going to the Field Museum. I had never been there before, and I was not disappointed. I saw plenty of cool stuff, including the stuffed bodies of the famous Tsavo man-eating lions. Coincidentally, last week the National Museum of Kenya demanded the return of the lions to Nairobi, claiming that they are important artifacts of the country’s history and heritage. I’m all for it – as long as I’ve seen the lions, I really don’t care what happens to them. I make all my decisions that way.

I do recommend that you look into the story of the lions, though. It’s pretty “badass” (I got that term off of the text on the Field Museum’s display). The short version of the story is this: In 1898, during the construction of a bridge over the Tsavo River for the Kenya-Uganda railway (dubbed “The Lunatic Express”), two exceptionally large, maneless male lions killed and ate about 140 railway workers over the course of nine months. That’s so many people.

The workers built thorn fences around their encampment, and set traps for the animals, but the lions were always able to crawl through the barriers, and avoid the traps and any ambush attempts, to drag men from their tents and eat them. Eventually Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson (an engineer overseeing the bridge’s construction) was able to shoot and kill the lions, although he claimed that each was able to withstand several shots from his rifle before falling.

Scientists are still unsure as to cause of the Tsavo maneaters unusual aggression and preference for human flesh, but several theories have been put forth. Some think that the lions’ skulls indicate that each had abscessed gums, which could have made attacking large and tougher animals too painful. Another theory is that an outbreak of rinderpest disease (a viral infection effecting cattle and related species) had decimated the lions’ usual food source, and forced them to seek other prey (i.e., humans). John Patterson’s journals also indicate that the graves of deceased workers had been disturbed and that the bodies had been removed, and some believe that the lions developed their taste for humans by scavenging in this way, and then modified their behavior to capture the sleeping workers from their tents.

The movie The Ghost and the Darkness is about the Tsavo events. It stars Michael Douglass and international film sensation Madmartigan.

Any thoughts on artifact repatriation, or about the lions specifically?