Cracking codes for endangered cats

Our Altai lynx Kiska has an important mission to accomplish: since 7 July, she has been testing a new GPS collar that is also used in studies on lynxes in the wild. Kiska is therefore proving a great help to scientists at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) ( in their work protecting this endangered species.

Smartwear for cats

Wildlife biologists are huge fans of these smart collars! Dr Anne Berger of IZW and her team have already fitted several wild lynxes in Turkey with the new gadget. The high-tech collars contain a GPS tracking unit and a built-in acceleration sensor, which means they can give the researchers better insight into the whereabouts of the animals and record data that could help them learn more about lynx behaviour. But there is one catch…

A cat case for cryptanalysts

The acceleration sensors map the animals’ movements – coded as data patterns! “The data from the wild animals could provide much more information if only we could analyse them correctly,” explains Dr Florian Sicks, mammal curator at Tierpark Berlin. “We could in theory find out from afar whether a specific lynx is running, sitting, jumping, eating or sleeping.”

Mapping movements

In order to assign the recorded data to individual behaviour patterns, it’s important to know which type of behaviour matches with which data pattern transmitted by the acceleration sensor. That’s a real challenge, given that it is incredibly rare to come across lynxes in the wild and even more difficult to observe them for a long period of time without disrupting their natural behaviour. All of that means that a comparative study in the lynxes’ habitat is not an option. And that’s where our “codebreaker” Kiska comes into the equation! The female lynx will be the key to the previously unexplored series of numbers. All she has to do is wear the collar while running, sitting, jumping, climbing and eating as usual, and the scientists at the IZW will observe her behaviour. Zoos are the perfect place for this kind of research; alongside their critical role in nature and species conservation as well as education and recreation, they also aid research.

Within a whisker of the solution

Since Kiska started wearing her smart collar, the researchers have had the unique opportunity to observe a lynx going about her daily routine and can match her behaviour to the data recorded simultaneously by the sensor. Thanks to Kiska, they will then be able to match the data from the wild lynxes to specific types of behaviour and know exactly where they are and what they are doing. Who knows, perhaps one day a monument will be erected in honour of our conservation heroine Kiska for her contribution to saving the lynx from extinction.

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