Tuesday, 05 October 2021
Charles Darwin University
E-news
Feral buffalo and cattle are an economic resource for Traditional Owners but also a source of damage to their country and cultural sites.
Feral buffalo and cattle are an economic resource for Traditional Owners but also a source of damage to their country and cultural sites.

‘Space Cows’ program to track feral cattle and buffalo

Satellite technology is being used to track the movements of feral cattle and buffalo that are destructive to the environment

The program, dubbed ‘space cows’, will combine First Nations knowledge, space technology and artificial intelligence to create the world's largest remote herd management system.

More than 1,000 unmanaged cows and buffalo will be electronically tracked using GPS satellite tags. The animals will be followed over 22,000 square kilometres, including in Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory.

The program is a $4 million four-year initiative led by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) with participation from Charles Darwin University (CDU).

Feral cattle are an economic resource for Traditional Owners, but also a source of damage to country and cultural sites.

The large animals degrade land by contributing to soil compaction and erosion, increased nutrient loading, spreading of weeds, and the sedimentation of waterways. Feral animals can also carry and spread disease and may cause problems during disease control operations.

Using the technology, Traditional Owners will be able to see where the animals go and whether their movements are influenced by climate and weather.

For example, Traditional Owners could receive an early warning that buffalo are moving toward a specific wetland during hot and dry weather, enabling workers to round them up or cull them before damage is done to country.

CSIRO research scientist Andrew Hoskins said locating feral animals in remote and inaccessible terrain was often the biggest challenge.

“We’re trying to put this (technology) in the hands of rangers to give them the ability to manage the landscape and feral animals how they want to,” Dr Hoskins said.

Besides supporting ethical mustering of feral cattle and buffalo, the program will develop an accredited training and education program, expanding digital skills and on-country employment opportunities for First Nations people.

The project is supported by the Smart Farming Partnership initiative through funding from the Australian Government's National Landcare Program.