World’s largest satellite herd-tracking program to kick off in NT

By on 2 June, 2020

Artist’s impression of a Kineis nanosatellite that will be used to track water buffalo in the Northern Territory. Image: David Ducros.

The world’s biggest herd-tracking program will tag and monitor over 1,000 water buffalo from space.

The CSIRO announced the $4 million, 3.5 year project to coincide with National Reconciliation Week, and will see the destructive feral animals tagged and tracked over 22,314 square kilometres.

The project’s area will cover the Arafura swamp catchment in Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, and the Upper Normanby and Archer River on Cape York Peninsula in Queensland.

Water buffalo and beef cattle degrade vast swathes of land in Northern Australia. Image: Peter Cooke.

CSIRO Chief Executive Dr. Larry Marshall said that the project’s purpose is to create economic, cultural and environmental opportunities for Indigenous communities in the region.

“This unique partnership is a reminder that the new frontier of space is an opportunity to learn from the mistakes of our past, and work alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to ensure that space-enabled technology is being put to best use to improve the land we all share,” he said.

“Australia’s burgeoning space industry is creating exciting new possibilities for innovative science and technology to solve our greatest challenges, like using satellites to manage our wide, open land in more culturally and environmentally sensitive ways,” Dr Marshall said.

The CSIRO will partner with Charles Darwin University to develop data management tools; James Cook University to engineer the tracking tags, and will use satellite company Kineisis’s nanosatellite fleet and network.

The CSIRO says that the ear tags will generate real-time, precisely located insights into herd density, accessibility and transport costs, and that the schematics, code and software will be made publicly available under Creative Commons licensing.

A rendering of the ear tags to be used in the project. Image: James Cook University.

The North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance Ltd (NAILSMA) drive efforts on the ground in partnership with Mimal Land Management Aboriginal Corporation, Aak Puul Ngangtam Ltd, and Normanby Land Management.

NAILSMA Chief Executive Ricky Archer said the program would give rangers and land managers precise decision-making tools to guide efforts to reduce impacts of buffalo and cattle grazing on native flora and fauna, and to aid the protection of cultural sites.

“As our environment recovers, it will become more resilient in the face of fires, invasive plants and climate change, and we’ll be able to protect sites of cultural significance to Indigenous Australians,” Mr Archer said.

“Over the course of the project, we’ll also be developing best-practice ethical mustering and handling guidelines so these animals can become part of the ethically-sourced meat industry, creating more jobs in our communities.”

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