As reported on the technology page of the BBC website, an app is now being used to help herders track the reindeer that roam the forests of Lapland; these reindeer face a number of dangers including wolves, lynx and wolverines. The app links to sensors worn around the reindeer’s necks, and herders get warnings on their smartphones when an animal abruptly stops moving, indicating that they may have been injured or killed.
The sensors were placed on the reindeer during the biannual roundup last September. Only alpha females got sensors because their location is the best indicator of where the entire herd is. The system uses a low-power custom network that links to GPS satellite signals so that the reindeer sensors don’t have to link to an existing mobile network. In the future, the plan is to track reindeer predators as well.
The main obstacle to putting this network in place was developing a sensor cheap, durable and effective enough to send signals for tracking reindeer roaming enormous distances in the Arctic where GPS signals are not always strong. Sensors also have to have batteries that only need to be changed twice a year when the reindeer are rounded up. Another challenge was developing adequate mapping software. Because the reindeer industry in Lapland is big business with roughly 300,000 reindeer being harvested every year, there was plenty of incentive to come up with a good system.
As the situation stands now, about 10% of reindeer are lost annually. The most common cause of death is from lynx attacks, but reindeer are also lost to traffic accidents. With the new technology, when herders receive alerts they can respond quickly to help injured reindeer and figure out what happened to those that died. So far, the new technology is popular with herders, especially the younger generation accustomed to using apps.