How many ‘animals’ do you follow on Twitter? We all remember the highly comic ‘travels’ of @BronxZoosCobra, and there’ve been a number of other notable animal tweeters. Lately wild animals have been joining the fray; two recent examples include sharks off the Australian coast and African elephants.
In Central Kenya, four GPS-tagged bull elephants are “tweeting” through the hashtag #ElephantsLive. The initiative, run by the charity Space for Giants, uses human supporters to tweet pictures and updates to raise awareness about elephant conservation.
In the case of the elephants, each ‘tweeting’ elephant is named and shows his or her own “distinct personality” on Twitter, corresponding to each animal’s real-life behaviors. Diana Vollmerhausen, who runs the @SpaceforGiants Twitter account, told CBC Canada that “The tweets are factual in nature including their movement but also personal traits that we have picked up following them over time.”
Tyson: In my old home I was known for my excellent fence breaking skills. Here’s how it’s done. FILM: http://t.co/8jbZNQ2enX #ElephantsLive
— Space for Giants (@SpaceforGiants) January 20, 2014
GPS trackers on each elephant allow scouts to follow their location via mobile phone app. The tweets are released with at least a 48-second delay “to keep the elephants safe from poachers.”
The @SpaceforGiants Twitter account had just over 1,000 followers on January 17; that number has already risen to nearly 2,000 at the time of this post (January 22). Press for the initiative is creating significant growth in the charity’s Twitter following.
In Australia, similar technology is used for a very different purpose. Sharks are ‘tweeting’ to save human lives, rather than to raise awareness about the species itself. Government researchers tagged 338 sharks – great whites, whaler and tiger sharks – with acoustic transmitters to monitor their movements. Once a tagged shark gets around a half mile away from a beach, a message is tweeted out on Surf Life Saving Western Australia’s Twitter account showing the shark’s size, breed and approximate location.
Westpac Lifesaver Helicopter sighted 3m shark, u/k species, 200m offshore @ north Scarborough. City of Stirling has closed Scarborough beach
— Surf Life Saving WA (@SLSWA) January 23, 2014
“This kind of innovative thinking is exactly what we need more of when it comes to finding solutions to human-wildlife conflict,” Alison Kock, research manager of the Shark Spotters Program in South Africa, told NPR. However, marine biologists are also quick to point out that not all sharks are tagged, so just because there isn’t a tweet, it doesn’t necessarily mean a beach is safe.
What do you think of these two very different uses – raising awareness for animal conservation vs. human safety – for GPS-tagging and ‘tweeting’ wildlife? Do you know of any other examples?