China's Beidou Navigation Satellite System has many applications－it helps drivers navigate, guides driverless agricultural machines, monitors trucks transporting hazardous materials and leads rescuers to fishermen in distress.
Soon, the space-based system will be applied to a new user－Asian elephants living in the country's southwestern province of Yunnan. In October, the animals will start wearing collars linked to Beidou services.
The move, a joint effort by e-commerce giant Alibaba and Beijing-based private satellite producer Commsat, is intended to better protect the big mammals and their human neighbors, said Xie Tao, founder and CEO of Commsat.
"Asian elephants are huge, sensitive, and have a strong sense of self-protection," Xie said. "There are about 300 Asian elephants in China, and most of them are in three places in Yunnan－Xishuangbanna, Puer and Lincang. Nearly 200 of them reside outside national nature reserves in Xishuangbanna, sharing habitats with local residents."
Human-elephant conflicts are common in Yunnan, which is home to many wild animals. Asian elephants need relatively large territories to live in and large quantities of food, which inevitably leads to confrontations with humans who have contributed to deforestation and have encroached into their habitats as a result of rapid economic development.
From 2011 to 2019, there were more than 4,600 human-elephant conflicts in Xishuangbanna, causing about 50 casualties and 8,000 hectares of damaged crops.
Xie said that to solve this problem, his company designed a collar for wild elephants that incorporates Beidou-enabled services such as high-accuracy navigation and positioning, short message transmission and narrowband-internet of things technology.
Designated to monitor wild elephants' movements, the device will locate and report the exact position of its wearer once the animal moves out of its habitat, providing early warning to authorities. The frequency of reporting will intensify once the elephant enters a "conflict zone", which has a certain level of human population.
Based on the system's information, local governments will be able to track elephants and reduce conflicts. The data will also facilitate research about wild elephants' living habits, according to Xie.
Trial run to start in October
A joint team sent by Commsat and Alibaba will go to Yunnan in October to start a trial run of the technology, he said.
Beidou is the country's largest space-based system and one of four global navigation networks, along with the United States' GPS, Russia's GLONASS and the European Union's Galileo.
Since 2000, a total of 59 Beidou satellites have been launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province on 44 Long March 3-series carrier rockets. Most of the currently operational Beidou satellites are from the third-generation series.
In late June, the final satellite to complete Beidou's third-generation network was launched into a geostationary orbit about 36,000 kilometers above Earth.
On July 31, President Xi Jinping announced at a ceremony in Beijing that Beidou has been completed and had started providing full-scale global services.