Tracking wild cows

Recently I had an interesting discussion with a relative about how technology can touch lives even in remote places. Arunachal Pradesh is a state in the Northeast of India situated in the Himalayas. You can see the map here.

You can find Wild cows (Bos Frontails) freely roaming among habitation and wilderness. These are locally known as Mithuns and they have religious and traditional value. Most of these Mithuns are actually owned by the mountainfolk and represent wealth more than money. These animals are allowed to roam free and occasionally used for beef during ceremonies like marriages. Since they represent wealth that can also be used for barter.

One adult Mithun can cost around Rs 22000 - 25000 ($550 - $650) and people tend to own anywhere from scores to hundreds of these animals. These are flaunted as a show of wealth esp. during marriages. Each animal is branded with the owner's seal.

Since these animals are allowed to roam free they represent floating property which can be hard to keep track of. What if an animal is eaten by a predator or stolen - though stealing these is a serious crime and it rarely happens. These animals can wander over a 10KM radius and are manually rounded up into a barn for counting once in a while.

So now an entrepreneur is looking at a cost effective way of using technology to keep track of these animals. One idea is to use active RFID tags embedded under the skin of each animal. However active RFID tags cannot have a 10KM range so they would need a system of towers spread across the area to pick up the signals. They can also co-locate the receivers with nearby cellular phone towers to reduce cost as well.

Another idea is to embed tiny radio/GPS transmitters. But that is more expensive. Also since the per-unit cost has to be kept at a minimum the service-provider can have monthly service charges to cover the initial expenses and have a recurring revenue stream.

Further there are other aspects being considered as well. Even if an animal is killed, for eg. by a Leopard the tag will keep on transmitting so how do you know whether the animal is dead or alive. The tag not moving from one place from a long time can give clues, but what if the tag is in the Leopard's stomach and still transmitting :)  So there can a facility to monitor the animal's vital signs like body temperature, blood pressure and transmit the information.

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