This is such a glorious title that I cannot just politely ignore it.
What is more, it also describes with great precision
a recent story from Eastern Africa, more precisely from the country of Kenya
An international NGO
by the name of World Communications for All
is busy installing satellite and cellular phones (re-using the defunct Iridium
network) all over Africa. These devices, unlike the more common portable telephones well-known (and well-hated) in the Western world, are solar-powered, pole-mounted, nearly indestructible devices. Looking like sturdy grey boxes with a speaker grille
and an embedded microphones, the elephant telephone
s weather the hardest environment conditions. Tribal herdsmen use them to get information about the price of cattle in market towns, while farmers get early warnings about insect plague
s. Some of them can be hooked up to a FAX
unit, to receive weather satellite maps from fax-by-request public access servers.
The devices are locally called "elephant phones", and there are two theories about the origins of the name: some claim that the phones are so sturdy that nothing short of an elephant gun will break them, while others observed that a major design challenge was in making the telephones "elephant proof".
A flat design would have made the telephone difficult to locate in the undergrowth, while the current pole design is attractive to elephants that like to use it for scratching. A little-known fact is that elephants almost constantly itch, due to skin rashes and parasite infestation.
A southafrican engineering firm finally solved the challenge, and proposed the winning design: a buried 200 pound concrete block, connected to a whip-like flexible stalk that contains the antenna, the keyboard, the speaker-and-mike unit, and a large amount of carbon fiber cord. The stalk is considered "pretty darn unrippable".
A report has come in recently that the name elephant phones may have a third explanation: a herd of the pachiderms has apparently learned to manipulate the phone keyboard by using the flexible tip of their trunk.
The elephants reportedly communicate among themselves, using the typical low frequency noises. Unconfirmed rumours about other herds learning the trick are coming from many parts of Africa. There is worry about the monkeys, too.
The elephants' almost constant presence around the poles scares away the intended users, and the problem appears difficult to solve. An engineer has proposed installing high-pass filters that would block the elephant "speech" frequencies, but it is feared that the herd, cut off "the loop" would stampede and visit destruction on the surrounding areas. "They are elephants, but they are quiet elephants", a nomadic Peul herder commented.
Luckily areas of Africa that have no elephants like Mali have not reported problems, other than the Tuaregs hog the phones, to the Songhai's constant complaint.