Haley Beer poses for a portrait inside the Animal Science Complex on Friday, Feb. 26, 2021 in Lincoln, Nebraska.

With a curiosity and love of animals and their behaviors, Haley Beer and other researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln are partnering with the Lincoln Children’s Zoo to monitor behavioral changes in cheetahs. 

Beer, a graduate student studying animal science, said she is from Sheridan, Nebraska. Since she was young, she knew she wanted to do something with wildlife. Beer said she grew up on an acreage, so she was always around wildlife.

“That’s kind of where the excitement or passion was sparked, when I was younger,” Beer said.

She said she was drawn to UNL because she felt there were great opportunities and because she liked the feel of the East Campus. 

“I really liked the atmosphere at East Campus,” Beer said. “In particular, it felt very homey even though it was much bigger than what I was used to.”

Ty Schmidt, associate professor of animal science, said he met Beer about a year ago, and he saw how she had an interest in understanding the behavior and activity of wild animals. 

“She seemed like she was very intelligent and very motivated,” Schmidt said. “Her personality is really engaging, and she’s easy to talk to.”

Beer said she completed her bachelor’s degree in 2016, and then she took two years off and worked as a zookeeper at the Lincoln Children’s Zoo.

Beer said she wants to contribute and enhance wildlife conservation research, which was one of the reasons why she wanted to do this project. Beer said zookeepers are responsible for looking for signs of illness or injuries with the animals, but they are not able to watch the animals in the zoo all the time and animals tend to hide their symptoms when humans are present.

The project uses video tracking technology that monitors behavioral changes in four female cheetahs, so zookeepers are able to recognize if one of them becomes sick or injured, according to Beer. 

Schmidt said the goal is to build a database to see the cheetah’s daily activities, like how long they stand or walk, how far they walk, how fast they walk and some of their social behaviors, like how they interact with each other.

The video tracking system is called NUtrack, and it was created in 2015 to monitor and identify livestock, like pigs and cattle, according to Schmidt. 

There are six cameras that are monitoring the cheetahs, according to Schmidt. The cameras can differentiate the cheetahs because all cheetahs have unique coat patterns, and the cameras are also able to track cheetahs based on their tail lengths, head differences and spatial recognition, according to Beer.

Beer said she would like to continue working and contributing to zoos, but she also would love to use NUtrack for animals in the wild in their natural habitats. Her ultimate goal is to use NUtrack as a tool in conservation and to assist endangered species, according to Beer. 

“So many animals are rapidly declining around the globe; it is critical we find solutions to help alleviate this undisputable problem,” Beer said. “My main goal, my purpose, or what I feel fulfilled doing, is using my passion to try to find the solutions or slow down the issues affecting endangered animals.”