University of Bremen: The “intelligent fence” against the wolf

Animal breeding and keeping are essential pillars of German agriculture. With the resettlement and spread of the wolf, however, a conflict of objectives with nature conservation comes to the fore: On the one hand, grazing is desired by society, because it offers advantages for animal welfare compared to mere stables, serves to care for nature reserves and enables flood protection with dykes . However, with several thousand cracks per year in sheep, goats, calves, ponies and foals, wolves pose an increasing threat to grazing animals and a psychological burden for their owners.

A “wolf-proof” fence that meets the ecological and economic requirements of agriculture, animal owners and society does not yet exist. The available fences are designed as permanent fences, which often speaks against the use in landscape protection areas or – due to the special design – is associated with a lot of additional work by the animal keeper. In addition, electric fences are very limited in their effectiveness during drought or frost. In regions with special conditions such as dykes, nature reserves and shallow soils, additional securing by means of piles or underground protection is not possible. A “fence arms race” with wolf fences would also result in a fragmentation of the landscape:

Other options for herd protection are also associated with very high costs and other serious disadvantages. Livestock guardian dogs are expensive to purchase and run, and conflict is easy to arise near human settlements or other dogs. Employing shepherds who work around the clock is also not economically feasible – each herd would require at least three people.

Psychological barriers complement physical barriers
But now a solution is being researched. In the mAInZaun research project (“Modular, autonomous and intelligent pasture (protection) fence with detection and deterring predators”) of the Universities of Bremen and Giessen as well as the company RoFlexs, the partners want to develop an “intelligent” fence using AI sensors and methods Recognizes the approach of a wolf and takes the appropriate defense measures. Dangers – be it wolves or tampering with the fence through storms or third parties – are recognized immediately and communicated to the animal owner. The police, road maintenance depots or railway supervisors can be integrated into the alert chain. The sensors and other components have their own power supply so that they can be used independently of an existing fence.

Inexpensive, digitally controllable and energy efficient
“The system is based on existing technologies, but it still has to overcome a number of hurdles in order to be practical,” explains Professor Anna Förster from the Technology Center for Computer Science and Information Technology (TZI) at the University of Bremen. “The sensors and the deterrent solutions should be cost-effective, digitally controllable and, above all, energy-efficient, because the mAInFence has to get by without external energy sources. At the same time, however, these solutions must also deliver very precise results. Our goal, for example, is that the AI ​​not only learns to distinguish between wolves and other animal species, but also between individual wolves. In this way, the deterrent solutions can be individualized so that individual animals do not get used to certain defense methods. ”

This is an important point because wolves are very intelligent and adaptable. “One of the greatest challenges in this project is to develop the methods of scare-off in such a way that they remain effective in the short and long term,” emphasizes the behavioral researcher Uta König von Borstel, professor at the Justus Liebig University in Giessen. “At the same time, of course, grazing animals, people or dogs must not be harmed. We are confident: With our approach of recognizing wolves individually and scaring them off, we can bring these requirements under one roof. “

Fence manufacturer ensures the practicality
If these challenges can be successfully mastered, the implementation of the research results in practice is already in prospect. RoFlexs GmbH (Salzwedel) contributes its experience from metalworking and electrical engineering. “One of our tasks is the development of a robust and weather-resistant housing for the control and sensor technology,” reports Managing Director Torsten Menzel. “At the same time, for example, we will help to develop the flexible and self-sufficient power supply for the modules and to continuously optimize it over the project period.” RoFlexs has also been producing and marketing a mobile fence for 15 years so that existing sales channels around the world can be used.

The project will run for three years and should be completed in mid-2024. It is funded by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) with 1.1 million euros.