Featured News Herding buffalo and cattle from space

Media Releases

Wed, 27 May 2020

Herding buffalo and cattle from space

Image: NASA

More than 1000 feral buffalo and unmanaged cattle roaming Northern Australia will be tagged and tracked as part of the world’s largest satellite herd-tracking program, using technology developed at James Cook University.

The Director of JCU’s eResearch Centre, Professor Ian Atkinson, said the $4 million, 3.5 year project aims to turn the destructive pests into economic, environmental and cultural opportunities for Indigenous communities, as well as create a new ‘best practice’ for managing large herds using space technology.

“This is a pivotal moment in the development of remote sensing where access to satellite communications will become ubiquitous.  This project places Australia at the centre of technology innovation in animal tracking,” said Professor Atkinson.

Satellite GPS-tracking tags will be attached to the animals’ ears and deliver real-time, geographically-accurate insights into herd behaviour, density and movements across the landscape.

The animals will be tracked across a combined area of 22,314 square kilometres, taking in the Arafura swamp catchment in Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, and Upper Normanby and Archer rivers on Cape York Peninsula in Queensland.

Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, is a partner in the program. Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall said the program demonstrated the unique opportunities for Australia in growing its space capabilities and supply chains.

“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 collaborative program will see JCU create the satellite-based GPS-tracking ear-tags; the CSIRO and Charles Darwin University will develop the data management tools, and European satellite company Kineis will provide access to their satellite fleet and technical expertise.

The North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance Ltd (NAILSMA) will 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 create opportunities for economic development, landscape restoration and the protection of cultural sites.

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

The project is being funded by the Australian Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment under the National Landcare Program Smart Farming Partnerships initiative.


Professor Ian Atkinson
P: 07 4781 4551
E: ian.atkinson@jcu.edu.au