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ZIMS at Work: Despite closures, Taronga Zoos continue vital work on behalf of Australia wildlife

Contributing Editor, Jo Seton

This feature on Zoo and Aquarium Association, Australasia, (ZAA) member Taronga Zoos is one of a series of stories about the institutions that curate and share data to help improve animal welfare and inform species conservation.

Bellinger River Turtle of northern New South Wales, Australia (Photo Credit: Paul Fahy, Media Relations Manager at WWF-Australia).

The critically endangered regent honeyeater (Anthochaera phrygia) is considered a flagship species for southeastern Australia; conservation programs by Taronga Zoos have positive effects on many other species that share its habitat. (Photo by Dean Ingwersen)

“Zoos are masters of reinvention. They’ve adapted over time to remain relevant.” That’s Claire Ford, Manager of Population, Development and Welfare, Taronga Zoo, Sydney. Adapting to the pandemic is the latest challenge: at time of writing, both Taronga and Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo are closed by lockdowns.

Regardless, with a vision to “help secure a shared future for wildlife and people”, Taronga’s animal care, and conservation work and research continues unabated. Here, we provide a look at their work – and the role of the Zoological Information Management System (ZIMS) in supporting wildlife hospitals and species conservation programs.

Taronga has long used ZIMS as its “go to” resource for keepers, curators, veterinarians, and population managers to share information about the animals in their care. Along with ZIMS for Care and Welfare, and ZIMS for Husbandry (the “births, deaths and marriages register,” as Ford tags it), the zoos use ZIMS for Studbooks to support its species conservation programs.

A wildlife hospital at each zoo uses ZIMS for Medical to keep preventive health and treatment records. Sharing these records during pre-/post-transfer quarantine helps to smooth animal transfers and health planning.

The hospitals also treat and rehabilitate injured and sick wildlife ­– 724 cases in Sydney and 758 in Dubbo over the past year. A new hospital is under construction at Dubbo, and planning for a Sydney one has begun. These will enhance capacity during wildlife emergencies and will become part of future guests’ zoo experience.

ZIMS for Studbooks and PMx tools developed by SCTI play a critical role in the zoos’ 16 species conservation programs, as many species (e.g., Lister’s Gecko, Plains Wanderer and Bellinger River Turtle) were previously rarely held in zoos, and knowledge of them minimal.

As these species’ “last line of defence,” the zoos must rapidly learn about them. Particularly urgent, to tailor conservation breeding programs, are demographic factors like age of first breeding, litter/clutch sizes, maximum growth rates, longevity, and social grouping. Using animal data in ZIMS for Studbooks, PMx recommends transfer and breeding opportunities that can help to maintain the health and genetic diversity of a population. (Learn more about this and other species conservation planning tools at Conservation Planning Specialist Group.)

In the future, Ford sees combining ZIMS for Studbooks data with genomics to powerfully inform conservation planning decisions as an exciting advance for Taronga’s programs. It “grows our conservation toolbox,” she says. Along with the new hospitals, it “will help alter the trajectory that faces Australian wildlife.”

In a land of often-devastating drought, bushfires, and floods, Taronga’s leadership is appreciated. Read more about Taronga conservation leadership, at Australasian Leisure.

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Contributing Editor Jo Seton hails from Australia and loves exploring new places around the globe. She holds a Bachelor of Arts (Victoria University, NZ); a Master of Arts (Exeter University, U.K.); a Ph. D. (University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee); and TESOL and Librarianship diplomas.

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