Wildlife Tracker Case Study: K-Tracker Smart Collar and Tag

16th September 2021
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Wildlife Tracker Case Study: The K-Tracker, An Award Winning Remote Telemetry Monitor for Koalas

How an innovative smart collar and tracking tag is helping conserve wild Koala Populations

 

When Endeavour Veterinary Ecology came to LX to ask us to help them build a custom animal collar for tracking Koalas, it seemed like an interesting challenge. Wildlife tracker tags and collars were by no means new in Australia or in the smart technology market. We’ve already developed tracker collars for pets and a quick google search will show you that GPS trackers in tags and collars have been used for a number of years in animal tracking and conservation.

However when we went through our discovery process workshops with the EVE team, it quickly transpired that there was a real need for something different in this space. This case study combines our passion for creating the right device for the use case, creating a better world at scale, and developing products that really show what IoT technology can do when applied effectively. 

Fast forward to nearly ten years later and we’ve continued working with EVE to create a new generation of the K-tracker, building on their experience in the field and all of our accumulated knowledge around this space. We believe great products should keep evolving and this story is just an example of how the data from a device can help inform how to make it even better. 

Read on to find out how we solved this challenge! 



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The Challenge for the Koala Wildlife Tracker & Collar

The Solution – a Connected Animal Tracker 

Additional Benefits of IoT Wildlife Trackers and Connected Devices

Wildlife tracker collar on a Koala bear with back to the camera

The challenge for the Koala Wildlife Tracker & Collar

The original challenge from EVE came when they had already had a prototype tracker and collar built by a third party, and had hit a wall with functionality in the field. They came to us looking for a tracker that would enable them to track wild Koala populations across SE Queensland with a collar that was custom built for the animals. 

These animals are often moving through fairly dense bush and whilst conservation often involves some human contact, the EVE team try to limit this, so any device needed to last in the field. That meant that the design needed to be hardwearing; able to withstand the animals knocking against branches or occasionally falling or jumping from one spot to another. Koalas are also territorial and fight, so the collar and tracking device would have to stay on even during combat and be resilient against clawing. Additionally, the power source would need to be reliable so that a device could be fitted and left for a significant time period.

Another element of the challenge for the K-tracker was connectivity. Whilst urban encroachment and loss of habitat is one of the issues facing Koala populations, generally they are found in rural areas without wifi or cellular connectivity. The wildlife tracker devices needed to be able to provide geolocation reporting using a network that was long range and power efficient. 

Finally form was key – most of the other animal trackers on the market were not fit for purpose because they would obstruct climbing, were too heavy or could cause fatality through accidental hanging. EVE needed a collar that was purpose built for the animals they were tracking.

The challenge was to create a connected device and collar that would provide fairly frequent, reliable geolocation reporting on a large number of animals. A device that could be deployed quickly and easily and then trusted to last in the field. They needed a device that was power efficient, robust and would withstand the day to day activities of wild Koalas.

They came to us with this challenge and we developed the K-tracker. 

 

The Solution – A Connected Animal Tracker 

The earlier iterations of the K-tracker were about fixing the immediate problem or challenge. The EVE team wanted to be able to remotely monitor the location and movements of the Koala populations, so the device would enable them to spend less time in the field, increase productivity and gain insights over time around movements.

We built the K-tracker to provide near real-time GPS reporting for animal tracking that would be reliable and power efficient. The device uses a solar powered built in battery unit with a standard battery fallback and the second generation reports using a private LoRa network deployed by our Base Station units. This long range network is able to transfer data through rural settings and is power efficient meaning the devices can last for a long time – up to 5 years in the field even with regular reporting. 

LX designed the K-Tracker product using our innovative IoT Cores engine. This allows us to start with the core functionality required by most remote monitoring systems and then add or subtract functionality as needed. By controlling the project from the electronic hardware right through to the casing design and software, we were able to ensure the finished product would meet the specific requirements that this use case had set.

Watch our full interview with the EVE team about the K-tracker device and the results below.

The current generation of the K-tracker device also provides a wealth of data alongside geolocation that gives the EVE team key insights into the movements and behavioural patterns of the individual and the colony. This includes impact detection and low activity detection/alert if an animal is sick or injured. The team can also monitor the proximity of the different tags to one another to identify behaviours like isolation, mating and fighting. Whilst some of this behaviour could be monitored using cameras, this would depend on the animals being in a particular area, whereas the trackers provide the data even when conservationists don’t have eyes (camera based or physical) on the animals. 

Alongside these reports, the tag will also monitor for free-fall motion and the collar protects against the issue of accidental hanging with an automatic breakpoint based on the weight of the Koala. The collar and the housing for the tracker have been designed to be durable whilst not weighing the animals down or obstructing movement. The team at LX built the unit to withstand the temperatures an animal would experience in the bush and also protected against inundation for example, if the Koala is crossing a creek or experiences heavy rainfall.

These features of form and function have enabled the EVE team to spend less time manually tracking in the field, and have provided a wealth of information that helps them make informed decisions around conservation activities. With the ability to monitor large groups of animals at any one time and with access to easy reporting through the desktop and mobile apps, the K-tracker is enabling the EVE team to work more efficiently and is helping protect one of our iconic native animals. 

See more about our tracker range here, including the Cygni Device which was used for the K-Tracker Project.

Satellite map of SE Queensland, Australia highlighting the location of wild koalas

Additional benefits of IoT Wildlife Trackers and Connected Devices

When the initial K-tracker tags were deployed on Koala populations, the desired outcomes were to be able to remotely monitor the animals and intervene when necessary if they were to come within range of a high risk area. Such areas might include mine sites, roads and industrial areas. 

EVE were concerned that populations were declining and they wanted to monitor movements and interaction to see potential causes for this and be able to prevent as many fatalities as possible. When the wildlife trackers were deployed however, it brought to light a previously unknown factor; that wild dog populations in the area were partially responsible for the declining numbers. This is an example of how the effective deployment of IoT devices and trackers in these environments can give you important data you didn’t know existed prior to implementing this technology. The amount of manual observation it would have taken to uncover this without technology would not have been feasible for the team and in this way, technology is really opening up what we can do with Animal tracking and conservation.

Wildlife trackers, collars, computer connected cameras and drones enable us to safely monitor wild and agricultural animals like never before. From tracking cows across a rural property to avoid loss and injury, to using IoT sensor driven cameras and drones to record poaching and illegal activities, technology is helping us protect wildlife all over the world. 

Have a wildlife tracker or sensing device you’d like to discuss? Speak to our team today. 

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