Pete Villarreal calls her his lab partner, but to be honest, she doesn’t have to do much work other than be herself.
On this day, she’s interested in a great horned owl in an enclosure nearby. She purrs and paces, her eyes focused on flapping wings, wondering if he is what’s next on the menu.
She’s a 1-year-old Eurasian lynx named Nova, one of several animals the Texas Zoo is collaring for short periods of time.
An enclosed tag that looks like a microchip is attached to their collars. It will capture motion and environmental data that the zoo hopes will someday be useful for conserving animals that are threatened in the wild.
This is an ambitious undertaking for a zoo that flooded less than two years ago and operates on a budget of $650,000.
“I don’t know if the Texas Zoo has ever been involved in this caliber of research before, at least not to my knowledge,” Zoo Executive Director Liz Jensen said. “We can also use the data as a diagnostic tool to better understand the animals’ physiological and welfare needs.”
The zoo recently received the tags, three of them, from Wildbyte Technologies, a company that formed at Swansea University in the United Kingdom.
Villarreal also collared an ocelot, a white-nosed coati and a black bear at the Texas Zoo, but he prefers Nova because of her good temperament.
A few months ago, she was donated to the zoo by a man who had kept her for the first months of her life on the dashboard of the tractor-trailer he drives for a living. He didn’t realize she’d get so large.
Although lynx are plentiful across the globe, red-ruffed and ring-tailed lemurs, red wolves and ocelots are not. They have a home at the Texas Zoo.
“There’s deforestation like crazy. There’s plastic in the ocean. Everything is going to heck,” Villarreal said. “Zoos are going to be the last stronghold when there’s so many humans there aren’t wild places anymore.”
There are only about 80 ocelots in the wild in the U.S.
The Texas Zoo is using these tags because it wants to do more than just put them on display in the hopes that people will find them cute enough to keep them alive.