FERAL buffalo and unmanaged cattle in northern Australia will be tagged and monitored from space as part of the world's largest satellite herd-tracking program.
More than 1000 animals will be tracked over the next 3.5 years in a bid to turn the destructive pests into economic, environmental and cultural opportunities.
The $4 million project uses technology developed at James Cook University and aims to create a new best practice for managing large herds using space technology.
JCU eResearch Centre director Professor Ian Atkinson said 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.
"This is a pivotal moment in the development of remote sensing where access to satellite communications will become ubiquitous," Prof Atkinson said.
"This project places Australia at the centre of technology innovation in animal tracking."
The CSIRO is a partner in the project, with chief executive Larry Marshall saying 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 CSIRO and Charles Darwin University will develop data management tools, satellite company Kineis will provide access to their satellite fleet and technical expertise and the North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance (NAILSMA) are also involved.
"This unique partnership is a reminder that the new frontier of space is an opportunity to learn from the mistakes of our past, and work alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to ensure that space-enabled technology is being put to best use to improve the land we all share," Dr Marshall said.
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.
"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 of cultural significance to Indigenous Australians."
"Over the course of the project, we'll also be developing best-practice ethical mustering and handling guidelines so these animals can become part of the ethically-sourced meat industry, creating more jobs in our communities."