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Conservation Feature: By connecting visitors to the world, Perth Zoo has its best year

Jo Seton, Contributing Editor

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.

Once ranging widely across Western Australia’s south, Dibblers hang on in just two isolated pockets of WA. Perth Zoo has supported and partnered with the Department of Parks and Wildlife as part of its Native Species Breeding Program to release zoo-born and raised individuals to protected habitats. (Photo credit: Perth Zoo; Illustration: Google maps)

The Bush-stone curlews bred at Perth Zoo are released to protected areas to help boost their numbers in the wild. (Photo credit: Perth Zoo)

With a mission “to inspire and act for wildlife conservation,” ZAA (Australasia) and Species360 member Perth Zoo is sanctuary, school, nursery, hospital, scientific institution, and local wilderness reserve. Offering visitors a unigue — and close-by — connection, the Zoo recently had its best year.

“I feel we have a bit of survivor’s  guilt here,” says Danielle Henry, Perth Zoo’s Media, Marketing and Communications Manager, of the institution’s fortunate run during the pandemic. The Zoo, in Western Australia, recently had its best-ever year for visitor numbers, partly attributable to the pandemic’s light impact on the state, but equally to its staff’s dedication to demonstrating the Zoo’s value, not least as an outdoor space to connect with the world without having to go far.

With a mission “to inspire and act for wildlife conservation,” the 125-year-old Zoo describes itself as “a sanctuary, a school, a nursery, a hospital, scientific institution, and your local wilderness.” And, amusingly, “a wildlife dating agency.”

Using ZIMS to support species conservation and animal welfare

Juvenile and adult Numbats bred at Perth Zoo have been released into Dryandra Woodland, a nature reserve two hours from Perth. (Photo credit: Perth Zoo)

Perth Zoo has used ZIMS for nine years to help manage threatened native species such as White-Bellied and Orange-Bellied Frogs, Western Swamp Tortoises, Western Ground Parrots, Numbats, Dibblers, & Bilbies.

It’s also using ZIMS in a novel way. Staff realized zoos’ typical ZIMS use in recording animal condition or behavior tends to favor “negative” records (such as when an animal is sick or injured) over “positive” ones (for example, when an animal is interacting well with others of its species).

To better track the full scope of elements impacting behavior, Perth’s Animal Welfare Recording Tool (AWeRT) uses the ZIMS Care and Welfare module to record animal welfare data, systematically rotating between seven recording categories. Allowing positive, neutral, and negative data in this way gives a clearer picture of animal welfare, and helps identify causal patterns and factors, such as elements of exhibit design affecting behavior.

Rebuilding populations in the wild

Western Australia’s White-bellied frog is among the region’s critically endangered species. Perth Zoo has released more than a thousand of the frogs into the wild as part of its programs to protect native species from extinction. (Photo credit: Perth Zoo)

The Zoo’s acclaimed breed-for-release program for Western Australian native species has had impressive results. Of critically endangered and endangered species, it’s released, over varying timespans:

  • 1,014 White-Bellied Frogs
  • 1,080 Dibblers
  • 934 Western Swamp Tortoise
  • 278 Numbats, and
  • 24 Bush-Stone Curlews.

With White-Bellied Frogs, the Zoo rears eggs collected from the wild through their vulnerable development stage. As adult frogs are no larger than a thumbnail, and males barely move from where they’re placed as they await a mate, releasing them back into the wild can be tricky, according to keeper, Tammy Goad.

“We put the frog into a little depression, put a leaf over the top and then hopefully they’ll make their home there and we can come down and monitor in future years,” said Goad.

If they survive in the wild, these tiny frogs will be bringing their species back from the brink of extinction. No survivor guilt required.

Read more about the member community that curates and shares data as part of non-profit Species360.

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.

Perth Zoo has released over 900 endangered Western Australia Swamp Tortoise into their natural habitat, helping to rebuild populations. (Photo credit: Perth Zoo)

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