Scientists are attempting to track 1,000 cattle and buffalo from space using AI, GPS, and satellites.
An estimated 22,000 cattle and buffalo roam free in a remote location of Arnhem Land, Australia, though the exact number is unknown. Research has shown, however, that these animals can devastate the environment.
“Seeing what these buffalos do to country is devastating,” said Steven Craig, who rounds up livestock.
A feral buffalo tends to consume large volumes of grass and other plants, rub off rock art, trample ceremonial sites, and destroy culturally significant waterways. Buffalo and cattle are known to be a major threat to the ecology and economy of Northern Australia.
Scientists are now collaborating with stockmen and Indigenous rangers in a four-year program that involves monitoring feral animals from space. Titled SpaceCows, the remote herd management system is backed by the Australian government’s Smart Farming Partnership initiative.
Local rangers and stockmen are chasing and catching animals to attach solar-powered GPS tags. Combining AI and satellite use, the tag data is transmitted to a space-based satellite system for up to two years or until the tags fall.
The government agency behind the program, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), used Microsoft technologies to develop a foundational digital platform for SpaceCows and AI algorithms in 2021.
According to Microsoft, the satellite system and its cloud service Azure can factor in the natural topography and harsh environment in Australia’s far north better than conventional wireless technology.
Microsoft technologies then create a digital twin of the land which incorporates terrain and weather data. Once the rangers know where the animals live, they will fence off important sites to help with environmental conservation efforts.
“There’s very little surveillance that happens in these areas. So, now we’re starting to build those data sets and that understanding of the baseline disease status of animals,” said Andrew Hoskins, a senior research scientist at CSIRO.
If the project is successful, this would be one of the largest remote herd management systems in the world.
“This (is a) really large-scale tracking project, probably of the largest scale from a wildlife or a buffalo tracking perspective that’s ever been done,” said Hoskins.