Conservationists in Kenya are using SMS to save the lives of both pachyderms and humans, and its success could help usher in  other services using SMS and location technology.

According to an Associated Press report, a group called Save The Elephants has placed collars with cell phone SIM cards on the necks of two elephants. Using GPS, the collars track the creatures’ locations. If they move to close to, say, a village that has been ravaged by elephants in the past, the collar sends an SMS message to rangers, who then know they must intercept the beasts.

The project is in its infancy, and questions as to the collars’ durability and cost are just some of the challenges it faces. However, villagers and animal advocates are both pleased in the case of one bull named Kimani–and this early success could help pave the way for other applications. It’s just one more example of combining SMS and location technology that marketers might find interesting.

Kimani’s story reminded me about special children’s cell phones in Japan, which also use  tracking and text-messaging–but to monitor the whereabouts of a child, not an elephant. One Sanyo model  features a “Security Buzzer,”  which can be activated by a child during an emergency, or activated remotely by a worried parent. As soon as the buzzer is activated, the  phone automatically takes a photo, calls a family member, and sends a parent the photo as well as a URL for tracking the child. The  little one’s  movements can then be monitored, minute-by-minute,  via phone or computer.

The  most spoiled Japanese kid doesn’t pose the kind of threat that rogue elephants do (unless you’re a naiive English teacher, haha). But Japanese cell phone technology has long been a “crystal ball” that tells the rest of the world where it will be in roughly 3-5 years, so the Sanyo phone will be extremely interesting to monitor.

Furthermore, what’s happening in Kenya and Japan show two very different ways of how the mashup of SMS and location-based services can be used in emergencies. I can see how, in North America, parents as well as people who live close to threatening wildlife will be most interested, initially. Once these usages are proven to be successful during critical, time-sensitive events, marketers will want to make use of the technology too.

Again, the idea of a coffee shop sending a targeted SMS to opted-in customers who are nearby comes to mind. Clever adaptation of both the elephant and the kid-phone systems mean it could happen soon.

Eydie Cubarrubia, Marketing Communications Manager, mobileStorm

“I’d rather you text me”