Cisco UK & Ireland Blog

Don’t Follow The Herd. Save it.

October 30, 2014

Sarah Eccleston – Cisco UK&I’s Director of EN and the Internet of Things –  is on her way to Zambia to spend a month living in an elephant orphanage, where she hopes to connect elephants to the internet. Follow Sarah to Africa and back on this blog to find out why, how and whether it works. 

I’ll get straight to the point. Every 15 minutes an elephantPic1 is killed for it’s ivory. It’s not only tragic, it’s a complete waste, because there is no substance in an ivory tusk that is not in our fingernails.

Aside from killing the elephant itself, it leaves behind orphans, like the one in the picture above, who was rescued in Zambia by the GRI Elephant Orphanage and Research Project when it was found alone, emaciated, dehydrated and terrified.

Every year, 35,000 African elephants are killed, most of them leaving behind orphans like this one to die.

So I got to thinking, if we can connect cars to the internet, and fridges, and pens, and cows – then why can’t we connect elephants? Because if we could connect elephants to the internet, with sensors similar to those we use to connect cows (which not only tell us a cow’s location, but also their vital signs, temperature, heartbeat, etc) then when an elephant does get shot, the ranger would know immediately (from the ceased heartbeat of the elephant). And that would mean that the ranger can go immediately to that spot and have a good chance of catching the poachers, rather than finding the carcass hours or days later, when the poacher is long gone.

Maybe the idea of connecting all the elephants in Africa to the internet is a crazy one, but rather than drop the idea, I expanded it instead. Because I just don’t believe that technology can’t help somehow, so the point is to find out how.

I decided that instead of sipping margheritas poolside in Santorini this year, I would spend my 4 weeks of annual vacation working for an elephant charity, and GRI accepted me to work for them for the month of November as a  research volunteer. While there, I am going to complete a Cisco Transformative Networking engagement. This is a process we follow to understand a current business process and identify where technology can improve it.

If it can help our customers to identify where technology can make them more effective and profitable, then why can’t it help these people working tirelessly in the field to rescue and rehabilitate these orphans?

So I will be spending time with the people at all stages of the process including the rangers out catching the poachers, the staff who rescue the orphans, the elephant keepers who act as surrogate parents and raise them, and the team who then re-introduce them back into the wild when the time is right and monitor their activity to be sure it is a success.


This isn’t something you can do remotely – you need to be there, to understand their day to day operations. For example, I originally thought the Cisco physical security cameras that have in-built audio and face recognition would be a great way for the researchers to track the elephants they are monitoring. But I was wrong. Because when I started to study elephants in preparation for this trip, I learned that you don’t identify an elephant by it’s face.  You recognize an elephant by it’s ears.

(Which means the best time to identify an elephant is when it’s ears are out at right angles. And guess what an elephant is about to do when it’s ears are out at right angles? Yep – it’s about to charge!!).


Of course, there are downsides to spending your holiday this way. For a start, I can’t say I am eagerly anticipating living in a tent for a month. And here’s a sentence I never thought I would say –  I need to buy a headtorch.

But there are much bigger upsides. Like this guy. This is Mphamvu, rescued just this month, and I can’t wait to meet him.


The Equipment

So, aside from a LOT of insect repellant, what’s in my kit list?pic8

First, I’m taking a Cisco Router (as Director of EN, I never leave home without one).

This is no ordinary router though. It’s a Cisco 819 ruggedised router, which basically means it has the functionality of a branch router, but it doesn’t need to live in a nice, clean, dust-free, air-conditioned data centre. Instead, it can withstand damp, dust, temperature extremes and impact. In fact, you can drop a bowling ball on this router and it will carry on routing traffic.

Why is that important? Because how heavy is a bowling ball: 16 pounds. How heavy is an elephant the day it is born: 260 pounds. Chances of a baby elephant stepping on the router in an elephant nursery: High!

pic9Second, I’m taking an Inmarsat satellite feed – a BGAN 500 – so I have a shot at getting internet access even though I am a 9 hour drive from the nearest big city, Lusaka.

Third, I am taking some sensors which have very kindly been lent to my by ZSL. No-one has quite figured out yet how we are going to get the sensor on the elephant, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. (It wasn’t built in 4 weeks in the remote bush with no electricity  supply either, but I am trying to remain upbeat).

And finally, I became a Google Explorer.  So, I am taking my Google Glasses paired by Bluetooth to my Samsung Galaxy S4. I’ve been wearing them all week to get used to them and so far I have been called everything from Diane Keaton to Robocop.


If you would like to see a bit of Africa, you will be able to see what I “see” through my google glasses here as often as I can get internet access to share it!

The general kitlist 

  • Clothing: beige, beige, beige. Trousers, Shirts, pic11Fleece, Waterproof coat. All beige. Definitely no white (attracts the flies) and no red (scares the elephants).
  • Waterproof watch for washing the elephants
  • Alarm clock for the 6am starts
  • Water bottle (Cisco logos optional).
  • Head torch
  • Camera
  • Batteries
  • Solar Power recharger for batteries
  • Day bag.
  • First Aid kit.


The Sarah kitlist


  • Bright red sleeping bag – I have no scientific evidence to back this up but if elephants are afraid of the colour red, then I am hoping so are the snakes?
  • Cisco Clothing, because you can take the girl out of Bedfont Lakes but you can’t take Bedfont Lakes out of the girl.
  • Chocolate – because there is only so much maize and beans a girl can eat
  • Dry shampoo – kindly given to me by two ladies in Cisco (you know who you are) who believe that a month in remote Africa with no running water or electricity is no excuse for having a bad hair day.


So finally…

I hope you will follow this blog to see how we do, and if you have any ideas – no matter how small, how big or how crazy – which you think could help these elephants, please post a comment as all help is very, very much wanted and needed.

As for the orphan pictured at the start of this blog, her name was Ntubya. She managed to survive for two more weeks after her arrival at the orphanage, but sadly, she had been through too much and she passed away on August 25th. Seperation from her mother had left her starving, infected with parasites and in a condition from which she just could not recover.

I don’t know if we can can save one elephant from that same fate – even just one – by using the  technology we spend our entire careers developing, selling and supporting. But I know it’s worth a try.


You can read more about Ntubya here.

You can follow this blog series here. And if you would like to see a bit of Africa, you will be able to see what I “see” through my google glasses here as often as I can get internet access to share it!


Leave a comment


  1. All I can do is . THANK YOU! Just wish there are more people in this world like you . Thank you from India.Hope tech plays a greater role in securing not just elephants but all of God’s creation . May God bless u !

  2. Wish i could be there! Don’t forget to take a nig gun so you can shoot any poachers you see, not to kill them, but to shoot their legs and tale their transport so they cam feel part of what the elephants go through!

  3. I lived in Zambia, as a British expatriate, in the mid to late 70’s and saw the beautiful elephants in The Game Parks there. It breaks my heart to know that they are being slaughtered and in such huge numbers, that it has been going on for such a long time and for what?!! It is time the carving of ivory and use of the tusks in so-called Chinese medicines was stopped. Hopefully, as Britain builds better relationships with China, this might just happen one day. I wish Sarah all the very best in this very brave venture. May she have great success, make a massive difference to the lives of elephants and keep safe.

  4. Good luck what a worthy and amazing thing to do i love elephants and would love to do what you are doing can’t believe that they are still be killed in that scale i though it had got better how awful.

  5. Good luck Sarah in all the work your doing for these baby elephants! And take care x

  6. Hi Sarah, hope you’re safe home, Sorry if I’m being pedantic and it’s a TINY point but as you, better than most know, when you are trying to educate people the detail is important !!
    Your first paragraph, “nothing in a tusk that we don’t have in our fingernails” but it’s actually the rhino horn that shares it’s make up with our nails, it’s our teeth that are the same as tusks!! Great blog!!!!

  7. Hi Sarah,
    Thought I’d take a look at what your doing over there, and it looks amazing, what a fantastic life experience to have under your belt.
    Be safe and take care.


  8. Hey Sarah hope things are going well, what an amazing thing you are doing and showing how technology can make a real difference.

    Keep Safe

  9. Truly inspirational!

  10. Wow Sarah,
    and i thought the ‘E’ in IoE was everything.. This gives whole new meaning to trunk connections:-)
    Definitely a story for you to trumpet about..

    Take Care!!

  11. Sarah – good luck with this great initiative – you certainly got the right kit and partners – was in Tz in summer and only then fully appreciated scale of problem – they are in big trouble now that you are out there building the new IoE ! Love it – Tom


  13. Wow! What a great application of IoE – and an inspiring story, too! Way to go, Sarah!

  14. Sarah, this is the coolest thing I’ve ever heard of. This is the sort of creativity and inspiration we need in the world to solve these very difficult problems, well done, I am very proud of you. I can’t wait to share it at home, they are going to be amazed!!!!

    …have you thought of installing WiFi antennas on the tusks?

  15. Hi Sarah,

    Zambia is an amazing place and saving elephants is a truly worthy cause. I’m a big fan of the Internet of Elephants #IoE – ummm sounds familiar 🙂

    Have a great time.


  16. Way to go Sarah – looking forward to hearing all your Zambian tales!

  17. Amazing journey Sarah!. I am so impressed. I am sure you will figure out a solution.
    Enjoy the experience and stay safe!


  18. Fantastic blog, impressive endeavour and character to raise awareness around animal rights and help save the nature from indecent elephant poachers by the use of IoE. I am really thrilled with this effort of yours, Sarah. Good luck and please take good care of yourself there.

  19. Can you please bring back a baby elephant for christmas – no need to wrap it – a bow will do.

  20. Wow – IoE in all it’s potential glory!!! Very best of luck – I hope that the trip is a successful one.


  21. Fantastic initiative, I hope you also come back with some cracking photos.

  22. Truly inspiring. Good luck and safe travels.


  24. I hope you have an amazing and worthwhile trip – Elephants are beautiful animals and it such a cruel trade that needs to be Stopped!!

    Cant wait to hear all about your travels.
    Best of Luck

  25. это не то, что вы смотрите на что имеет значение , это то, что вы видите

  26. Wow……fantastic!

    Best wishes and safe travels

  27. Hope things are going well Sarah – if you need a hand with the router config I’ll happily jump on a plane and give you a hand!

  28. Sarah – This is incredible! Kudos to you for taking steps to make this world a better place!

    Good luck to you!

  29. You have said, “I don’t know if we can can save one elephant from that same fate – even just one – by using the technology we spend our entire careers developing, selling and supporting. But I know it’s worth a try”. It’s absolutely well worth a try and if anyone can do it, you definitely can along with the amazing technology. Well done and can’t wait to hear all about it and I would love to support in some way. Travel safe!

  30. Have a wonderful time and stay safe x. Love the glasses!

  31. Truly amazing read and to then see what you are planning, nothing short of the right side of bonkers.

    Cannot wait to read your updates

    Best of luck and stay safe


  32. It was good to meet you when you came to “Cuan Wildlife Rescue”.
    What a fantastic and selfless way to spend your holiday. Good luck with all you’re hoping to achieve.

    Come and see us again when you are next up this way, although be sure to ask them to phone me if I’m not there, as I only live 1/2 a mile away.


  33. Sarah,
    I will use the Cliche of Cliche quotes, but it fit here.

    “A journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step”. Congratulations on taking a few first steps here.

    Best wishes.


  34. Very best of luck Sarah,

    It’s sounds like the trip of a lifetime and one where you’ll definitely have a positive impact!!

    Have a blast and look forward to reading all about it.

    Best wishes

  35. Fantastic! Africa is one of my favourite destinations and grew up with wild elephant herds at the foothills of the Indian Hiamlayas. Awesome the way you have chosen to relate to these wonderful giants.
    A baby elephant stepping on a router may just give new meaning to the phrase “data compression”! 🙂
    May humbly recommend a vibration Reduction (VR) zoom for the camera if you already do not have one? Does wonders for those quick high shutter speed snaps while on 4-wheel drives.

  36. Take care my lovely friend. We’re very proud of you for doing this. By the way your godson has got his eye on those glasses!

    Make a difference & stay safe

  37. Sarah, you are an inspiration for all of us mere mortals. Have a super experience! xx

  38. Sarah,
    Fantastic! Wish you a very successful trip and already looking forward to the next instalment.

  39. Amazing and inspiring!!! I am so proud of you and count wait to read about your had it unfolds x

  40. THE best of luck Sarah, can’t wait to follow your journey.

    Amazing project – I have every faith that you will be successful!

    Let the fund raising plans begin:)

    Take care

  41. If it can be done, you will do it!

    Proud of you, a month in a tent is no mean feat, the elephants are easy xxx

    Bye Sarah

  42. Good luck what an amazing experience looking forward to hear all about it you return. Have a safe journey x Amazing

  43. Already proud of you, and now even more so.

    Can’t believe there’s no Neil Young in the survival kit!

    Good luck


  44. Steve Jobs said

    “It’s not a faith in technology. It’s faith in people.”

    I know that if there is a way, you will find it.

    Take care and come back safe.

    Mom x

  45. Good Luck Sarah! I’m sure this will be an amazing experience.

  46. Hi Sarah, how cool (forgetting the tents!!) it isn’t about whether you do or don’t It’s the fact that you care and are trying. As you know we were recently in Tanzania on Safari and saw first hand the decimation caused by humans. After you sort out the Elephants we will focus you on the Rhino’s. Look forward to following your blog. Regards Paul

  47. Queen Beige, nice challenge and opportunity, I like the field kit “router, BGAN”, good luck. Remember elephants have a very long memory . . or so they say, so watch what you say to them.

  48. looking to learn about your advetures with the elephants. Be safe and well

  49. Amazing Journey!!! Be safe and I’ll be anxious to follow you in the coming weeks.