LAKE FOREST — Students at Lake Forest Country Day School now have the opportunity to engage in something no other students in the world have the ability to do.
The youngsters get to track every movement of Squall, an elephant roaming the land in Kenya. The school adopted Squall just over one year ago through Save the Elephants, an African based organization devoted to studying and preserving the world’s largest land mammal.
Lake Forest Country Day School became the first school in the world to get the opportunity to pioneer Save the Elephants’ computer tracking technology when the app was introduced May 19 on the Lake Forest campus.
“You are the first school to have your own elephant. This is Squall,” said Gemma Francis, the director of fundraising for Save the Elephants, pointing to a photograph of the creature. “You are the first school on the planet to be able to track your elephant with this tracking app.”
When the founder of Save the Elephants, Iain Douglas-Hamilton, visited Lake Forest Country Day a year ago as the school’s scientist in residence, he told the students about his effort to protect elephants from ivory hunters. He also spoke of his life’s work to protect the animals.
At the end of his presentation May 9, 2016, Douglas-Hamilton told the students they would get their own elephant to track through the generosity of some members of the school community. He said then they could track its movements every six months. Stephanie Fisher, a former LFCDS parent, organized the Douglas-Hamilton visit.
Now, instead of learning about Squall’s whereabouts every six months, the students can do it in real time by watching electronic devices mounted around the school, according to Francis.
“This shows his movements for the last 16 days,” said Francis, pointing to lines on a large screen projecting Squall’s recent whereabouts. “The dark green lines mean he was moving at night, the light green lines mean it was day and the red dots mean he is streaking.”
Francis said streaking is a term used to mean the elephants have picked up the pace of their walk.
“Elephants don’t run but they can walk faster than any of us can run,” Francis said. “They are in the hills by night and come down during the day for water.”
The app was developed for Save the Elephants by Vulcan Inc., a Seattle-based company founded by Paul Allen, according to Francis. Allen was the cofounder of Microsoft with Bill Gates in 1975.
One student who was inspired by the presentation was Anna Ferdkoff, a sixth grader from Northbrook. She said she is thankful for the opportunity to track Squall and wants to do more.
“I feel grateful, excited and happy,” said Ferdkoff. “It’s a great thing for us to have such an app. It makes me want to go to Kenya and help. I can spread the word about what I see on the app.”
Another person thrilled with the opportunity presented by the tracking app is Bob Whelan, the head of school. He likes the education it gives the students, and he said some may be inspired by it.
“I love that in America we can watch this,” said Whelan. “It makes it so much more real for the kids. It can lead to purpose and passion and become transformative.”
Francis said the elephants are tracked through the use of a collar they wear. The new app is a pilot program. She said Lake Forest Country Day got the first opportunity to track its adopted elephant in part through the generosity of the Fisher and Kovas families.
Stephanie Fisher sits on the board of the Brookfield Zoo and was responsible for bringing Douglas-Hamilton to the school last year. She said she has made several trips to Kenya and gotten to know Douglas-Hamilton.
“This is a great opportunity for the school,” said Fisher. “They can use a computer to track an elephant in Africa while there are here in the U.S. This has never been done before.”