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Voices of ZIMS: Expert Advocate Zak Showell

Voices of ZIMS- Zak Showell

ZIMS is more than just a tool – it’s a movement. A movement started by our community more than 40 years ago to be better and do better. A movement that’s about collaborating and sharing knowledge for the wildlife in our care. ZIMS belongs to our community – a community that is passionate about what we are trying to accomplish. This series features their voices. First up is ZIMS Expert Advocate Zak Showell, who is also Director of Shaldon Wildlife Trust.

A ZIMS Expert Advocate in the making

Sparsholt ZIMS training - Zak ShowellI recently delivered a ZIMS training workshop to staff at Sparsholt College, UK, a very well respected higher education institution and ZIMS Education member. The question “how did I end up doing this?” has crossed my mind a few times, especially as I’ve been fortunate enough to travel across the UK and even to Amsterdam to deliver ZIMS based training and workshops.

How it all began at Chester Zoo

Chester Zoo - Zak Showell
Image credit: The Chester Chronicle

It all really started in the summer of 2010 when I was at an interview for an internship at Chester Zoo. I originally applied to be a reptile and amphibian intern, but my interview took a bit of a twist. Before I knew it, I was offered the first ever curatorial assistant internship at Chester Zoo. During the internship, I was fortunate to be trained on ARKS by the incredible Dave Brunger. He’s considered to be a linchpin of the UK records community. Six months into the internship, a job appeared at Twycross Zoo. So off I moved, but this time into my first paid zoo job, as a deputy registrar.

On to Twycross Zoo for the next phase

Once again I worked with a truly respected and knowledgeable records keeper, Pat Milham. She taught me a wealth of things on records, legislation and animal transports. Together we saw the transition from ARKS to the original ZIMS (now commonly referred to as ZIMS in the Wild). Then from that ZIMS version to the ZIMS as we know it now. Also seeing MedARKS morph into the medical component of ZIMS. We were also one of the first zoos in Europe—if not the world—to give all our staff a login and train them to do their data entry. Pat took retirement in 2015 after devoting years to the world of zoo records. I felt honored that she wished to pass the Twycross Zoo data solely onto me.

Zak Showell
Zak Showell in front of exhibit sign at Twycross Zoo (Source: The Hinckley Times, Image credit: Nigel Palmer)

Expanding focus with the BIAZA records group

BIAZA logo - Zak ShowellAround that time I also joined the BIAZA Records group. This is a group of record keepers that provide assistance to BIAZA and its members on all record related matters. There was always a need for workshops and talks at their annual meeting, so I more than willingly stepped up. Despite being relatively new to the industry, in comparison with others, I wasn’t shy in getting up and talking. My past in the arts probably also helped.

From there it snowballed. Other collections started asking me to do training with their record keepers and staff. I developed and delivered multiple ZIMS for Medical workshops across the UK and had the privilege of teaching the first ever records based EAZA academy course. I even got the chance to work with Species360 developers to build a special UK CITES licensing report which is now used by zoos throughout the UK.

Unexpected fame

I never did any of this for the fame. The records world is probably one of the least sexiest elements of modern zoo management. We don’t have cute endangered babies to photograph for press releases. What we do have, however, is the underpinning of our breeding programs and a fantastic research resource. It’s data that can truly inform us on the welfare and husbandry of the species in our care.

Fame, in a form, did however arrive. In 2016 I was bestowed the title of ZIMS Expert Advocate by Species 360 in recognition of my work teaching the community about records. In 2017 I also received the BIAZA Rising Star award, the first records keeper to ever win it. It’s something that will stand out as one of my career highlights.

I never sought out the records world when I wanted to get into a zoo career. It found me, but I can’t think of any other way I’d go about it now. I have been fortunate enough to work in an age where we are no longer “just record keepers”. We are data managers—the people who commit and contribute a wealth of knowledge so that our industry can continue to progress and learn. I suppose what I’m saying is if life gives you lemons, then don’t forget to accession the lemons.

About Zak Showell

Zak ShowellZak Showell is Director of Shaldon Wildlife Trust and Chair of the BIAZA Records Group. In 2016, Zak was named a ZIMS Expert Advocate, one of only two recognized by Species360 so far. This designation recognizes and rewards those who have not only become ZIMS power users, advisors and ad hoc beta testers, but also have acted as ZIMS ambassadors and trainers, mentoring new and novice ZIMS users. Prior to joining Shaldon Wildlife Trust, he was the Animal Records Registrar for Twycross Zoo, where he also won a ‘Rising Star’ award from the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA).


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