Tiny Transmitters To Protect Precious Animal Species

2 Nov 2023

With technology evolving at a rapid pace, the protection of wildlife through tracking is also becoming more sophisticated.

Namibia is part of a project to test new devices to tag animals and this project is carried out by scientists from Germany's Max Planck Institute of Animal Behaviour.

The ICARUS project (International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space) is led by Martin Wikelski and Uschi Müller. ICARUS aims to create a living map of the Earth’s animals by tracking them with a network of sensors that send real-time data via Sig-Fox towers to a satellite. This informs scientists how ecosystems are changing real-time, and how animals respond to this in regards to climate change. SigFox is a Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN).

According to Wildlife Vets Namibia several species – from elephants, rhinos, zebras and different antelope species – were recently tagged on two different farms.

The custom-built tags for each species, are small and light-weight and can record the animal’s GPS position and movements, as well as temperature, humidity, pressure and magnetic fields. The battery of the tag is recharged by a tiny solar panel on top of the tag.

A large eland bull is fitted with the tags.
Photo: M. Bijsterbosch


Most tags have a two-way communication system, meaning they can be programmed remotely. The data size transmitted is very small and stored in a specially designed “Movebank”.

The scientists want to find out how these small ear tags work on the different and larger wildlife species.

The tags can be useful to deter poaching. The tags detect if an animal has not moved for a certain time. The tag then sends out a “mortality signal” alarm to alert the farmer and/or anti-poaching team to check on the animal.

According to Wildlife Vets Namibia, which was involved in the darting of the animals to be fitted with the tags, all data from the tags are encrypted and only persons with an access-link can see the data.

It is hoped that the tags produced by the Max Planck Institute can be available on a larger scale next year for general use and at production costs.

Brigitte Weidlich

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