27th May 2020: More than 1000 feral buffalo and unmanaged cattle roamingNorthern Australia will be tagged and tracked as part of the world’s largestsatellite herd-tracking program, announced today by Australia’s nationalscience agency, CSIRO.

Coinciding with National Reconciliation Week this week, the $4 million, 3.5year project aims to turn the destructive pests into economic, environmentaland cultural opportunities for Indigenous communities across the region, aswell as create new ‘best practice’ for managing large herds using spacetechnology.

Satellite GPS-tracking tags will be attached to the animals’ ears and deliverreal-time, geographically-accurate insights into herd density, accessibility,and transport costs.

The animals will be tracked across a combined area of 22,314 squarekilometres, taking in the Arafura swamp catchment in Arnhem Land in theNorthern Territory, and Upper Normanby and Archer River on Cape York Peninsulain Queensland.
CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall said the programdemonstrated the opportunities for Australia in growing our own spacecapabilities and supply chains while also advancing reconciliation.

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

“This unique partnership is a reminder that the new frontier of space is anopportunity to learn from the mistakes of our past, and work alongsideAboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to ensure that space-enabledtechnology is being put to best use to improve the land we all share.

“The benefits of space should be available to all Australians, which is why weand our partners will make the schematics, software and code that power thesystem publicly available for free under creative commons, so othercommunities can also benefit.”

The collaborative program will see CSIRO and Charles Darwin University developthe data management tools; James Cook University create the GPS-tracking eartags; satellite company Kineis provide access to their satellite fleet andtechnical expertise; and the North Australian Indigenous Land and SeaManagement Alliance Ltd (NAILSMA) drive efforts on the ground in partnershipwith Mimal Land Management Aboriginal Corporation, Aak Puul Ngangtam Ltd, andNormanby Land Management.

NAILSMA Chief Executive Ricky Archer said the program would createopportunities for economic development, landscape restoration and theprotection of cultural sites.

“Using the information the ear tags generate, rangers and land managers canaccess more precise decision-making tools about where they focus efforts toreduce the impacts of buffalo and cattle grazing and eroding native flora andfauna,” Mr Archer said.

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

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

The project is being funded by Department of Agriculture, Water and theEnvironment under the National Landcare Program; Smart Farming Partnershipsinitiative.

Image: Kineis nanosatellite planned for launch in 2022. Credit: DavidDucros.
Image: Water buffalo in Northern Australia. Credit: Peter Cooke.

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