Last Word: Tracking the tracker


Electronic wildlife tracking must be about 50 years old; an application that was conservation
research orientated has now become compulsory in high value species protection, safety and
security, writes Otch Otto…

Tracking pack hounds that are chasing down poachers with a rapid reporting lightweight tracker is exciting, amazing and satisfying. And while monitoring rhino Just In Time (JIT), and tracking the migration of a stork across Africa and Europe, you can hardly believe that tracking took so long to be this simple and cheap.

Witnessing the massive strides made in 2019 deployed in the field a few months ago was revealing, and loaded with hope. Everything works, plus the equipment is small, light, long-life, long-range, simple, reliable, and so very graphic, informative, accurate and colourful.

When serious high-value asset tracking was instituted in 2015 to capacitate close protection and accurate rapid intervention, the counter-poaching rangers simply walked over to the research office to poach their technologies and experience.

Almost everything was clumsy, painful, short-lived, dirty, cumbersome, demanding of human, vehicle and aircraft inter-phase, complicated, over-marketed and underperforming. And expensive in comparison, if we look at our current rhino tracking balance sheet, which states that after installation and tagging costs we are now tracking a rhino at JIT at R300 per year with a 66g ear tag that generates its own power and will work for three years (or more) without service or intervention.

To go from the massive elephant collars to a 66g ear tag was not easy, nor simple. It took two years to get there, particularly when it came to guaranteeing performance. The first units have been fitted to rhino and hourly GPS positions are then transmitted to a secure monitoring portal.  The tracking devices are universal and may be fitted to any wild animal, field rangers, visitors/contractors or any fixed assets.

The harsh conditions in which conservation asset trackers have to work has made the unit that started as a rhino ear tag a suitable technology for universal tracking applications, including vehicles, luggage, children, staff, firearms and electronic equipment. You can track things yourself, on your device or use a do-it-for-you service that will send you a visual of what your lion, leopard, rhino, dog or wheelbarrow have been up to in the last 24 hours or week.

The gOtcha-UTRO-S-A tracker is standard SigFox enabled and is available with alternative communication platforms such as LoRa, Satellite, MQTT and Bluetooth Low Energy.

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Written by Otch Otto

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