You may have seen our work on wearable technology for the livestock industry and companion collars for furry friends. We developed them with our commercial partner Ceres Tag. Now, conservationists are using the smart ear tags to track giraffes on the African savannah.
Smart ear tags
The solar-powered, direct-to-satellite smart ear tags have global positioning system (GPS). That way, farmers can locate animals via the Internet of Things. This means farmers can get the information from anywhere using a smart phone or device to improve management of both livestock and the paddock. They also have accelerometers and can send out alerts for unusual levels of activity.
Ceres Tag launched the livestock ear tags commercially in May 2021 and they’re already being used in 19 countries. They have also won several prestigious design awards.
Out of (South) Africa
Now, Ceres Tag have adapted the technology to help with conservation, welfare and monitoring of wildlife. The Ceres Wild tags will help research projects' track a range of animal species. The largest and most extraordinary smart ear tags application is underway on the African savannah. But they are also soon be used to track reindeer in Finland and soon, koalas on Australia’s east coast.
Dr Julian Fennessy is a leading giraffe conservationist from the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. He has been tagging the world’s tallest mammal for decades. Most recently, he’s using the smart ear tags in preparation for the largest ever translocation of giraffe starting in May 2022. Julian and a team of conservationists will move more than 350 giraffes from South Africa to neighbouring Mozambique over the next few years. The creatures almost became extinct in Mozambique mainly due to civil war from 1977 to 1992.
Walking on the wild side
“If we’re going to save giraffe we need to understand where they’re moving day and night. What habitat are they using in current and new environments? Are they going into areas that puts them at risk. For example where we know poachers can be active,” Julian said.
“From a cost-effective side, the new generation smart ear tags such as Ceres Wild will make things more available to researchers and conservationists across the world. The more satellite data we can obtain means we’re going to find out things about giraffe and other wildlife that we never knew existed.”
The global trade in wildlife hunting and poaching each year is staggering. Julian said one of the most common and costly problems for species like giraffe is they are vulnerable to hunting for meat by local villagers.
“The tag can be used as a tool against theft and poaching. African conservation authorities could use it to inform their anti-poaching activities,” Julian said.
We know what livestock generally do in their paddocks from day to day. They graze, walk to water sources and lie down. We don’t need their ear tags to send data via satellite every second of every day to effectively monitor their location and changes in activity. This also helps save the tags’ power and extends their lifetime.
But wildlife are a little different. They have more threats in their environment. So it's important for conservationists to know what the animals are doing and where they are. The data upload is more frequent on the wildlife tags than on the livestock tags. This way, they can contribute to a better understanding of the animals’ movements throughout the day and night.
An alert is triggered if the animal's average activity levels are higher for 10 minutes or more compared to their normal behaviour over the previous six days. There’s also an alert if the tag registers no activity for a period of 60 minutes, meaning that the animal may have died. Basically, if there’s something an animal’s doing that’s out of the ordinary, we don’t want to miss it.
Grand theft livestock
Livestock theft is also a big problem for Australian farmers. One of the aims of the smart tags is to enable law enforcement to react while a crime is active and help identify the owners of stolen livestock.
This month, a world-first ‘mock’ stock theft is taking place to test the tags’ crime prevention capability. The trial is a collaboration between Ceres Tag, the University of New England’s Centre for Rural Criminology and New South Wales Police.
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