November 28, 2023

Ein Hellabrunner Luchs im Fokus der Wissenschaft

The Hellabron’s cleft at the center of science

Photo: © Gemma Borrell

Research and science are among the primary tasks of modern scientifically managed zoos. However, research work often goes unnoticed by visitors. Hellabrunn has recently been involved in two studies with the female lynx. These illustrate the importance of scientific investigations in zoos to improve the management of animals in human care and to protect endangered species in their natural habitat.

The lynx Mia from Hellabrunn has been under special surveillance recently: a toy camera was stuck in her system and took pictures every time Mia walked. It is a research project of the Snow Leopard Trust, dedicated to snow leopards, lynxes, and other cat species. What these species have in common is that they are very difficult to notice in nature due to their very secretive lifestyle. In order to determine the occurrence of such species in an area and monitor their numbers, autonomous wildlife cameras are usually used. However, the challenge is to determine the exact number of animals of the corresponding species – after all, the same person could have passed the camera over and over again. Cat species such as the lynx have unique coat patterns that can help.

The computer program must be able to recognize images that show the same animal – regardless of the time of day or the perspective of the image. This is where zoos come into play: “Unlike natural habitats, we can make sure that all the images from the lynx enclosure wildlife camera always show the same animal, which is our Mia,” explains Jonas Homburg, Hellabrunn zoology volunteer. As a member of the Society of Zoos (VdZ) Science and Research Working Group, he supervises and supports research projects at the zoo and has also placed the camera in the lynx barn. “When many zoos capture images of lynxes in this way, a reference database is created that a computer algorithm can use to learn how to reliably distinguish individuals. This is a clear example of research work that can only be done in zoos, but provides very basic knowledge to protect animals in their natural habitat,” continues Homburg.

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This combination of off-site and on-site projects is also present in another research project in which Hellabron is involved. As part of the Eurasian lynx breeding program, genetic screening of lynxes kept in zoos is carried out. For this purpose, fresh droppings of Mia lynx were collected and preserved in ethanol so that their DNA could be examined at the Senckenberg Research Institute. With the results of the analysis, it will be possible, for example, to determine the geographical origin of the lynx, to collect new breeding pairs in the best possible way, or to select animals that are particularly suitable for resettlement projects. The lynx was in parts of his European country It is completely exterminated in its distribution area and can be resettled with animals born in the zoo, for example in the Harz Mountains.

Zoo Director Rasim Baban is pleased with Hellabrunn’s participation in the studies and stresses the special importance of research in zoos: “In this way, zoos and zoos carry out scientific investigations that are difficult to carry out. New insights are not only gained from this, but they also make important contributions to the conservation of endangered species in their habitats”.