On February the 8th 2017, Gautam Shah, founder of Internet of Elephants spoke at TED Nairobi about how to insert wildlife into people’s everyday lives in the most fun, passionate, and meaningful manner. The video will be made available by TED this summer. In the meantime, here is the transcript of the talk.

“I’m going to talk about games, so let’s start with one.  All you have to do is make the sound of the animal you see on the screen.

[Audience moos]


[Audience quacks]

[Audience makes the sound of a monkey]

[Audience laughs and some hiss]

Hah!  The correct sound is “hissssss’ – at least that is what the tortoise in my garden always does.

You know these sounds instinctively right? You’ve known them from when you were two, and they are the first sounds your own kids probably learned.  Our childhood revolved around animals.  All our toys, books, movies, and clothes were associated with animals, whether they were cows or lions. Animals captured our hearts.

But then we grew up and other things like video games, sitcoms, girlfriends and boyfriends demanded our attention.

Along the way, here we are, facing the extinction of the natural world.

But there is good news. There is evidence that animals and wildlife capture our imagination.  Movies like Jungle Book and Zootopia had more than 100 million viewers each. Zoos last year received over 800 million visits. And who doesn’t like a video of a sneezing panda bear?

We are fascinated by animals and wildlife, but with so much competing for our time, we only pay attention in short bursts.  And these bursts don’t translate to lasting benefits.

My love affair with animals started in Chicago of all places.  I grew up in a woody suburb where raccoons and deer and foxes kept my sister and I fascinated every day.  I never outgrew my love for animals and I spent all my salary and holidays seeking out personal experiences with mountain gorillas and grizzly bears and sea lions.


But there came a moment where I felt it was all very selfish. These experiences were only for me, and animals were still dying.  I didn’t want to keep sitting behind my desk as an IT consultant for another 20 years taking these great vacations.

So I quit my perfectly good job to get into wildlife conservation.

The first thing I learned is that there are two primary ways we currently try and engage an audience with wildlife.

First, is traditional fundraising.

The second is through eco-tourism. Both of these can only reach a limited audience – either the “already converted” or the small percentage that can afford a wildlife experience.

Meanwhile, there are people on the ground investing blood sweat and tears to save a pangolin or a bonobo or a Southern Right whale.

Conservationists are fighting hard, but let’s face it, they are behind, not catching up, and another World Elephant day isn’t going to change the tide.  If you are behind, you can’t keep playing defense. The only hope is to switch to offense.

And offense in this case, means aggressively competing for your attention based on what your life looks like.  It means finding ways for you to want wildlife in your life, not telling you that you have no other choice.

The sectors that are most successful have the attention of people every day.  We need the same number of people to pay attention to wildlife daily that pay attention to sports and TV and politics.

So, I want to ask you, what would it take for you to want to reach for your mobile phone first thing every morning to see what is going on with elephants or anteaters?

Because if we figure out the right incentive to make that happen, then those elephants and anteaters will compete with Lionel Messi, Game of Thrones, and Donald Trump as topics at dinnertime.  This is what is necessary to let wildlife conservation take its rightful place at the table as one of the most important things in our life.

We have an idea that is combining three things that can help make it happen.

First are individual stories. Continuous news about the deaths of anonymous elephants thousands of miles away are sad, but too abstract. Individual stories, whether human or animal is what captures people’s attention. Just look at how the world reacted to Cecil the lion, who had a name and a dramatic story.

Second, is a channel that already has people’s attention.  Games.  2 billion people play games for an average of 6 hours a week.  What if people could follow the life of Manyara the elephant from Tanzania, but in a way that was more interactive than another boring newsletter?  What if you could compete against your friends on what Manyara will do next, or take the same number of steps as Manyara took yesterday in an effort to get fit?  What if instead of searching for Pokemons in your home city, you were looking for Manyara? Gaming has a negative connotation because it can addict people, but imagine if that addiction helped just a small percentage of those billions to pay attention to wildlife?

The last is data.  These are the actual movements of Amelie the elephant in Tanzania and because of advances in technology, there are literally thousands of animals transmitting this type of data. We partner with the organizations collecting this data to bring these stories, in the form of games, to your mobile phone. And then we drive the revenue from these games back to these organizations to help with their research.

Games that use GPS data to bring the stories of real wild animals to your mobile phone and let you play along.  Could this combination addict you to the life of Amelie, or Luko the bear, or Wilson the jaguar, and make them worldwide celebrities?

That is what we are going to find out. This is not the only way and by no means a sure success.  But there is no time left to play defense.  We need to think of this and other ways to create 20 million, 40 million, 100 million wildlife addicts.  Could you be one of them?

We’re developing the games right now and we need your input.  Google ‘Internet of Elephants’, let us know what you think, and let’s all celebrate the life of these animals, not just mourn their deaths.”

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