DSIR spin-off keeps eye on wildlife

Tracking animals, insects and even people is the business of Sirtrack, a division of Landcare New Zealand.

Tracking animals, insects and even people is the business of Sirtrack, a division of Landcare New Zealand.

Formed in 1986 as a commercial division of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, the company supplied imported satellite transmitters from 1988, but in the past two years has developed its own systems. It has an annual turnover of $2 million, 80% of which comes from exports.

Manager David Ward says the firm mainly uses radio transmitter technology it developed in Hawke’s Bay, but also offers global positioning technology Sirtrack is developing with a Canadian firm. Special “patches” are made, which are fitted to animals and transmitters, and can be switched on and off by computer. Some 360 different species are monitored using the system, from giant wetas to elephants. Animals can then be located to within two metres, instead of 150 metres via radio.

Australia is Sirtrack’s biggest market, but it enjoys healthy sales in southern Africa, south east Asia, the US and Europe.

Ward’s 54 customers are mainly government departments and agencies, universities, conservation groups and students doing wildlife projects. Private individuals have also bought systems for their cats and dogs and some even put them on people. “We have had a unit on an intellectually handicapped child in Northland for 10 years and saved the police thousands of dollars in search fees,” says Ward.

“We have stuck to our knitting with wildlife, but this technology can be used in logging cars and trucks,” he says.

The company has eight staff, has just recruited a technical administrator and is about to recruit another in administration. But people with radio frequency skills are “hard to find”.

Sirtrack started in Hawke’s Bay, because that’s where the DOSR located it. Now, with all its suppliers and contractors nearby, there is no point in moving, Ward says. And of course, the lifestyle helps.

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