Harvesting Crocodile Eggs

By Lance Conry

Next time you think you are doing it tough managing your assets, spare a thought for the crocodile egg collectors at the Darwin Crocodile Farm in the Northern Territory. Would you walk through eighty meters of waist deep water in the wet season, unable to see below the surface, in order to raid eggs from crocodile nest? All the while knowing that Mum’s not far away? Imagine doing that thousands of times over every year!
Collecting eggs is one of the many challenges when breeding crocodiles in captivity. “The farm meets its requirements for eggs from a breeding program and wild egg collection through its partnership with traditional owners.” One of the other challenges is locating nests and keeping track of the number of eggs.

Mapping the Nests

It all started with their chopper pilot, Mark Grosvenor, of Albatross Helicopters. While flying the egg collectors around to collect the croc eggs, he started using his computer to record the locations of nests and the number of eggs collected from each one. Errors were a common occurrence as the collectors had to remember the numbers of eggs until they were back at the computer in the safety of the helicopter.
When the eggs were deposited at the farms for incubation, the information then had to be copied from the recording application to a spreadsheet used for maintaining gestation records. The many manual steps increased the errors and reduced the accuracy of the data. The eggs are valuable, and an accurate count is critical because each viable egg has to be purchased from the traditional land owners. While the process wasn’t ideal, it had given Mick Burns, owner of Porosus Pty Ltd (Darwin Crocodile Farm), an idea.

 

Crocodile Mick’s ideas

  • Reduce the chances of anyone becoming crocodile bait by building a system that could quickly and easily help record the location of the nests and the details of the eggs taken
  • Minimise problems caused by losing mobile computer (dropped while escaping or eaten by a crocodile). A master unit inside the chopper, would sync with the mobile devices every time they came within range. The pilot could also use the master unit to keep track of where nests were harvested and to pre-mark nests to be inspected at a later time. Pre marked nest details should also be automatically transferred to the handheld units.
  • Streamline the workflow by allowing the system to track the progress of nests while in incubation at multiple sites, and also provide outputs to a spreadsheet for reporting purposes.

Building an Integrated System

Mick turned to RIA Mobile GIS to help him refine his existing technology components into a streamlined and efficient system. Lance Conry of RIA went on site in Darwin to work with Mick to develop the solution.
The TDS Nomad was selected as the ideal data collection unit for the extreme working environment, being waterproof, shockproof and sporting a numeric keypad. The EO TufTab ultra mobile personal computer (UMPC) was chosen as the master unit mounted in the chopper. It has a larger screen size and shock mounted hard disk (mandatory in choppers).
ArcPad was already being used by the chopper pilot so the standard user interface was refined with custom toolbars to reduce clutter and streamline the steps. ArcPad forms were created with extra large buttons so that fingers could be used instead of a stylus for the main operations. The forms also helped reduce the amount of time spent at each nest. They were automatically populated with a nest ID, the date and time, and the previous collection area. The Nomad’s numeric keypad allowed free form text entry using fingers which was much faster than a stylus and on screen keypad.
Synchronization was driven from within ArcPad via the integrated WiFi on the Nomad and TufTab. On the completion of a trip, the eggs are moved to incubators, and the data is synchronized from the TufTab to laptops at the farm using the same WiFI mechanism.
All stages of the system use the same ArcPad customisation, so there is no need to become familiar with several applications. ArcPad is used for the data collection as well as for the display and review of records back on the farm.

Outcome

Mick Burns is pleased that he now has a system that reduces his data capture hassles and increases the accuracy of the information that is being gathered. The egg collectors are very relieved that they have a practical easy to use system that keeps their time at the nest to a minimum. The new system is a win for everyone…except perhaps the crocodiles.

 

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Details

  • Client: Porosus Pty Ltd (Darwin Crocodile Farm)
  • Tasks: Mobile System Design and Development
  • Categories: Asset Management, Mobile GIS