Monitoring species over large and remote areas isn’t easy. Until know, traditional satellite GPS collars were used to keep track of wildlife but that system has multiple flaws. Not only does it require quite a big and heavy collar, the tracker sends out only a couple of signals a day and batteries usually only last for about two years.
World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and its partners are testing new technologies on orphan elephants in an attempt to better understand the movements of these animals and to safeguard wildlife from the hazards of the outside world.
This new technology, called LoRaWAN (Long-Range, Wide Area Network), could really change the game for wildlife monitoring. LoRaWAN works very similar to our home Wi-Fi network. This private wireless network is intended for low-power, long-range data transfer between devices that have the necessary long-range technologies installed.
Currently, the system is being tested in the Game Rangers International’s elephant rescue and release facility in Kafue National Park (Zambia) by tracking 10 young elephants. “As Game Rangers International works to gradually reintegrate orphaned elephant calves back into the wild, the elephants spend less and less time at the facility. Testing the collars on these elephants that still rely on the facility but are free to explore during the day, can help keep them out of trouble and send alerts to rangers if an elephant gets too close to communities,” reads the WWF statement.
Testing the collars
New collars called ElephantEdge, developed by SmartParks, allow researchers to keep track of elephants every five minutes, while batteries can last for up to seven years and require a less bulky collar. However, this tech requires physical infrastructure in the form of towers that have been installed over the last two years in the Kafue National Park in Zambia. Now that they are in place, WWF and its partners (Zambia’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife and Game Rangers International) will be testing out the new LoRaWAN-collars.
“The elephants are free to come and go during the day but return to the facility at night,” said Eric Becker, WWF US’s lead engineering specialist for wildlife conservation. “This gives us the opportunity to easily monitor and troubleshoot the collars for any tech issues or remove them if they’re impacting the elephants’ safety. It’s more cost-effective and allows us to address any problems much quicker than if we were using wild elephants.”
If the pilot project turns out to be successful, the technology will be fine-tuned and could afterwards be implemented in other wildlife projects around the world. “After monitoring and analyzing the data, we’ll assess what went well and what didn’t and adapt to determine the feasibility of using this technology for other wildlife, such as wild elephants or predators like lions, and wildlife in other regions,” reads the WWF statement.