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2019 Year in Review: Improving Animal Welfare and Informing Species Conservation

Jim Guenter, CEO, Species360

In July, Species360 staff volunteers helped to clear invasive species of plants at the Minnesota River Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

In 2019, Species360 and our member community have made great strides toward our shared goals of continually improving the care and welfare of animals and contributing critical missing data needed to inform species conservation. As we push to do more before the close of the calendar year, I am pleased to share our collective progress with you.

I want to thank our members, our partners, staff, and the Species360 Board of Trustees for your leadership and support, which helped us to reach these milestones throughout the year. Our focus, and all that we have achieved in 2019, reflects the 10-Year Strategic Plan established in 2018 by Species360 and our Board of Trustees, including our core mission.

Mission: Species360 facilitates international collaboration in the collection and sharing of knowledge on animals and their environments for zoos, aquariums and related conservation organizations to serve institutional, regional and global animal management and conservation goals.

2019 has been an exciting year, and we are very pleased to share these results with you. Read on, and let us know your feedback!

In Situ Wildlife Care and Conservation / Over the course of the last year Species360 staff have been in contact with multiple field projects, rescue, recovery, head start, and other organizations collecting data on animals in the wild.  We believe that collecting and aggregating the data on animals in their native environments and comparing that data to their ex situ counterparts will lead to better understanding of the natural world.

The Giant Armadillo Conservation Project is using Species360 ZIMS with support from Houston Zoo.

There is not always a clear line of demarcation between in situ and ex situ animals.  Often just the act of recording data on the animal influences their environment enough to influence the data recorded. We will have to define new ways to indicate in and ex situ data – and in some cases the spectrum of data in between.  Some of our members, present and future, are monitoring and recording data on some of the most amazing wildlife on the planet and so we believe the effort of structuring and organizing the data in new ways is well worth the challenge.  

Species360 and its members continue to demonstrate the value of  data collected from wildlife, most recently showcased in the Species Knowledge Index publication in PNAS, highlighting the degree to which Species360 members increase global wildlife knowledge.  Adding data from species in their native habitats will increase the value in immeasurable and unforeseeable ways.  And so we begin our journey working with these different types of institutions. There is a lot of familiarity in their data, there are many new types of data we were fully expecting them to need, and we also fully expect to learn about all new requirements as well. What we learn will influence our software, our science, and how we leverage our staff to support these members.  We look forward to the rest of this journey.  

In Situ Projects that are actively using ZIMS include:

  • Giant Armadillo (Brazil) – Onboarding in partnership with Houston Zoo
  • Anteaters and Highways (Brazil) – Onboarding in partnership with Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens
  • Blue Iguana Recovery Program\ (Cayman Islands) – Onboarding in partnership with WCS
  • Sloth Institute (Costa Rica) – Active
  • Black Footed Ferret (USA) – Active for breeding center ferrets

Several other projects are in contact with Species360 about using ZIMS to record and protect critical species data.  Some already have access and will soon begin recording data in ZIMS. Some are still in the early stages of exploring the use of ZIMS.  We also have existing members actively collecting data on animals in the wild, including those being monitored close to or within a facility and sometimes in rescue, breeding, head start facilities or in their native habitat. 

We are very open with early adopters, ensuring they realize ZIMS was not explicitly built for their purposes and that we will strive to improve the software on their behalf – and that we will want all of their feedback.  As these members will certainly not drive revenue to support significant and expensive software development we are pursuing funding, including community support, philanthropic giving, and grant requests on their behalf or in partnership with them.  

As with all of our software we have a long list of development needs.  Here are some of the highlights that will be required to support these users: 

  • Track field sightings and tracking details
  • Mapping capabilities (e.g. GPS tracking, sighting location, etc.)
  • Accession animals without ownership or physical possession
  • Users create their own data field (similar to user defined field in studbooks)
  • Flag animals as in situ vs captive and a clear definition of the two (or the spectrum) 
  • Data export to evaluate raw data for research (a similar need to ex situ data)

We are excited about this new group of members as they are all doing amazing work, on the ground, in the interest of species conservation. We will keep you informed as this important work continues.  Please let us know if you are aware of other in situ projects or organizations that are candidates for Species360 members.  And thank you for those of you that have already helped us make these valuable connections. 

Monitoring Animal Welfare / ZIMS for Care and welfare has been quite a success for our members.  We recently posted a case study in partnership with Como Zoo in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA.  Como Zoo keeper Madison, used ZIMS for Care and Welfare in partnership with their veterinarian to save a critically ill emperor tamarin named Lara.  Tracking key indicators over time promoted good welfare and improved communication and collaboration between staff.  Are you able to have similar success assessing the welfare of your populations? I encourage you to read this story and let us know what you think.  We would love it if you shared your stories with our team and our members. This project was funded by many of our member institutions and designed by several key community leaders sharing a similar vision for improving records keeping with passion for better animal care.  

The Primates team at Como Zoo uses ZIMS for Care and Welfare to select key indicators and monitor Animal Welfare for animals and groups. Here, the care team uses ZIMS to compare and analyze several indicators at once.

Import Test Results / Establishing integration between medical labs and ZIMS has long been a dream for our team and many of our members.  Almost two years ago we launched an initiative to fund, and then build software that would automatically import our members’ test results. We knew this functionality would not only save a significant amount of time but it would also eliminate the inevitable errors that come from re-keying important information.  The funding process took almost a full year but thanks to the generosity of our members and two different labs we have the funding we need. Scheduling the work with our software team was the next challenge. We are simultaneously supporting an aggressive studbook rollout, migrating historical records of the amazing collections of at least 5 new members, building the early stages of biobanking functionality, and continuing to develop key resources for aquariums, just to name a few.

With all that going on we now anticipate the project to build test results import will start close to the new year, and require 3 to 6 months to complete. This was a much longer timeline than we ever expected and we greatly appreciate the patience of our members – especially those that helped us fund the work.  The good news buried in this long timeline is that one of the labs is re-engineering their approach to sharing data back to their client institutions. Our delay will ensure we integrate to their latest software solution – meaning it will be the most effective and the most likely to be available for years into the future.      

Biobanking / During the WAZA conference last year the WAZA membership approved Resolution 73.2:  Bangkok Resolution on Viable Cell Culture Cryobanking for Species Conservation.  As part of this resolution, WAZA encouraged members to:

“Request the monitoring of inventories of biobanking specimens through the Specices360 database of cryobanked viable tissue cultured cells, as this solution is developed, to assure records and processes can be shared globally.  To this end, WAZA will form a Working Group to facilitate the exchange of protocols and procedures.”

The Species360 team developing ZIMS for Medical is actively developing sample management and sample tracking solutions. Two early adopters for this functionality will include the San Diego Zoo Global (Oliver Ryder from SDZG is a co-author for the above mentioned resolution) and the EAZA Biobank.  We are excited to see international collaboration forming around these biobanking solutions that will help drive our software in the best possible direction to support this critical conservation resource.  

Additionally, we were excited to hear about the progress made during the Conservation Planning Specialist Group (CPSG) meeting on developing biobanking strategies and plans for Aquariums and Zoos globally and we are excited to support these initiatives.

CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP18) / Species360 participated in the CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP18) in Geneva earlier this year, represented by our Director of Science, Dr. Dalia Conde.  Dalia presented the value of Species360 and our members’ data at a side event organized by WAZA, EAZA, AZA, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and San Diego Zoo Global.

Dalia also presented at a COP18 Side event hosted by the IUCN Red List team.  We are excited about the new energy in our partnership with the IUCN Species Survival Commission and the IUCN Red List team.  We recently signed an MOU to pursue integration of Red List and Species360 data to emphasize the importance of the One Plan approach, adding visibility to captive populations as a critical component to conservation actions.

And lastly, Dalia participated in an intervention at Committee II on Asian Big Cats breeding facilities based on work done by Dalia and the Species360 Conservation Science Alliance.  

ZIMS for Studbooks Provides Real-Time, Global Insight / More than 500 studbooks are now operating in ZIMS for Studbooks worldwide, and we continue to migrate more studbooks to ZIMS every week. Building on this momentum, Species360 recently announced our plan to complete studbook migrations for our member associations by the end of 2020.  We are working with the associations with the most studbooks to proactively achieve this timeline.

With over 500 studbooks now operating in ZIMS for Studbooks we are excited about the level of adoption and energy from our community. Our statistics for the larger regional studbooks migrations, as of October 2019, are:

  • EAZA: 310
  • ZAA (Australasia): 78
  • WAZA: 54*
  • AZA: 49
  • PAAZA: 21

* International studbooks are often managed within the regional associations.

In addition, we are excited to share that the Brazilian and Japanese associations will move all of their studbooks in ZIMS.  As regions make the decision to move their studbooks to ZIMS we will work with them on new migration timelines. For more details and additional associations leveraging ZIMS for Studbooks, please read our February 2019 blog post.

Once these migrations are complete, we will shift the focus of our development team to new and refreshed functionality.  We will begin with new functionality requested by our members’ studbook keepers and our member associations’ population biologist teams. 

Conservation Science Alliance – Global Information Serving Conservation / As conservationists around the globe scramble to develop strategies to sustain critical populations of species, too often they cannot find the information they need to effectively inform their work. Key data on animals is either unavailable, unorganized, or inaccessible.

In search of answers, global leaders such as CITES, TRAFFIC, IUCN Species Survival Commission and others turn to Species360.  This provides an amazing opportunity to demonstrate the value of Zoo and Aquarium data in support of conservation initiatives.  We are eager to help.

  • CITES commissioned the Species360 Conservation Science Alliance to help law enforcement agencies understand and accurately identify protected species to determine if they were bred in captivity or illegally obtained in the wild.  Guidance developed by the Conservation Science Alliance equips legal authorities to carefully identify species, halt illegal traders at border crossings, and prosecute criminals.
  • Aquariums are key to Coral Survival.  With 20% of corals in their care vulnerable to climate change, aquariums play a key role in coral survival.  Conservation Science Alliance researchers, working with IUCN SSC, the Zoological Society of London, and population dynamics experts, sought to understand which species have insurance populations within the world’s aquariums.  This work, published in the Journal for Nature Conservation (April, 2019), helps conservationists better grasp ex situ resources.

We recently launched a new WEBSITE TO SHARE THE IMPACT OF GLOBAL DATA IN SUPPORT OF CONSERVATION INITIATIVES AROUND THE WORLD.  Here, you will find Open Data results, media articles, and an extensive bibliography of the amazing science and key initiatives of the Conservation Science Alliance team. 

In 2018 WAZA became one of the first sponsors of the Species360 Conservation Science Alliance, alongside Copenhagen Zoo, and Wildlife Reserves Singapore. We thank them for our early faith in our efforts and are proud to share our accomplishments over the last many months.  If you are interested in supporting this important work, demonstrating the amazing impact of Zoo and Aquarium data on conservation, please let contact us.

Species360 Members Spans 96 Countries / As of September, the Species360 membership grew by 80 new members in 2019. We are excited by the continued interest in Species360 membership globally and the ever expanding diversity of the organizations leveraging our services. 

Our annual membership continues to grow:

  • January 2017 = 1,036
  • January 2018 = 1,074
  • January 2019 = 1,131
  • 2019 YTD   = 1,211

There are multiple opportunities (but also significant challenges) in supporting an increasingly diverse membership base. In 2019 our membership added:

  • 12 aquarium members 
  • 8 Indian (Central Zoo Authority) members
  • 7 New Japanese members   
  • 4 New In-Situ Projects members  
  • Thanks to JAZA (Japan) – all 100 of their studbooks to be managed within ZIMS
  • Thanks to AZAB (Brazil) – all 25 of their studbooks to be managed within ZIMS
  • Peter Donlon, our Director of Global Member Development also spent several weeks in China this year developing relationships with this region of the world, underserved by Species360 today. 
  • 7 New Research Partners
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