Indigenous rangers in northern Australia are taking a unique approach to managing herds of feral animals by using satellite technology. Known as the Space Cows project, it is the largest initiative of its kind in the country and involves tagging and tracking a thousand wild cattle and buffalo.
Water buffalo were originally introduced to Australia’s Northern Territory in the 19th century as working animals and a food source for remote settlements. However, when these settlements were abandoned, the animals were released into the wild. Over time, the feral buffalo population has grown, causing significant environmental damage.
One of the problems caused by feral buffaloes is their movement along swim channels in wetlands, which leads to the flow of saltwater into freshwater areas. This has resulted in the degradation and loss of large sections of paperbark forest and natural waterholes, as well as the spread of weeds.
Under the Space Cows program, feral cattle and buffaloes are captured, tied to trees, and equipped with solar-powered tags that can be tracked via satellite. The real-time data collected will be crucial in controlling and predicting the movement of these herds, which are known for their destructive impact on the landscape.
Most feral buffalo are found on Aboriginal land, and Indigenous rangers are working closely with researchers to address the issue. The rangers already carry out sporadic buffalo culls, and there is hope that well-managed feral herds can provide economic benefits to First Nations communities.
The satellite technology will enable Indigenous rangers to anticipate the movement of cattle and buffalo, allowing them to cull or fence off important cultural and environmental sites. This will help prevent damage to sacred ceremonial areas and culturally significant waterways. By using the satellite information, scientists can also predict when herds might head to specific waterways during warm weather, enabling rangers to intervene.
This project marks the first time that feral animals have been monitored from space. Andrew Hoskins, a biologist at Australia’s national science agency, the CSIRO, stated that this is the largest tracking project in terms of wildlife or buffalo tracking. The integration of space-based satellite systems makes it a significant endeavor.
Australia has a history of introducing animals from overseas that have had devastating effects on the environment. In addition to feral buffalo, other species like cane toads, feral cats, foxes, pigs, camels, and yellow crazy ants have caused extensive ecological damage across the country. The use of satellite technology in the Space Cows project represents an innovative and proactive approach to managing these feral herds and safeguarding Australia’s natural habitats.