ZIMS at Work: Shared data takes a central role at storied Audubon Nature Institute
Jo Seton, Contributing Editor
This ZIMS at Work feature on Audubon Nature Institute is one of a series of stories about Species360 member institutions that record and share data to help improve animal welfare and inform species conservation.
Like much in New Orleans, a coastal city in the southeastern United States, the Audubon Nature Institute has a storied past. With roots in Audubon Park as far back as 1800, it’s survived much, including hurricanes – most notably Katrina, most recently Ida.
Throughout the years, the Institute and its family of museums and parks, including Audubon Aquarium, Audubon Zoo, Freeport-McMoRan Audubon Species Survival Center, and four other parks and nature centers, remains an important economic driver: $250+ million (USD) in capital investments, more than 400 employees, and $19 million/year generated in local and state sales taxes, make its economic impact some $330 million/year.
“Zoos are not a static entity – there are constantly upgrades and changes.”Ann Meyer, Curator of Collections Management, Audubon Nature Institute
Collectively, these locations and their teams serve Audubon’s purpose of “…doing a world of good by linking conservation efforts that protect endangered species, habitats, and nature to experiences that spark individual action.”
Using ZIMS to Support Animal Care
The pandemic’s impact reduced Audubon’s animal staff to the bare bones, affecting conservation programs. At the Freeport-McMoRan Audubon Species Survival Center, for example, raising and releasing of endangered species, including whooping cranes and Mississippi sandhill cranes, slowed. This work is returning, with the largest release to date of Louisiana pine snakes in June 2021, followed by the release of whooping cranes in November.
Species360’s Zoological Information Management System (ZIMS) is used by staff caring for these and other animals throughout the Zoo, Aquarium, and Species Survival Center. Ann Meyer, Curator of Collections Management at Audubon, was hired six years ago to bring ZIMS online there.
Today, Meyer and around 50 keepers use it daily for a multitude of tasks at the Zoo and Species Survival Center, while aquarists enter as many as 10,000 records every month as they manage collections and enclosures, including more than 400 animals and groups throughout the aquarium.
“With the cranes,” Meyer explains, “we use the Egg Log. We record the parents; when the eggs were laid; whether they’re fertile or infertile; hatched eggs.” This allows keepers to review pairings’ egg fertility and hatch rates, and offspring survival success. “Plus, if a pair is genetically over-represented, we’d split them out and create another pair,” says Meyer.
Using ZIMS to Share Essential Data
Ease of record-sharing is a key ZIMS benefit for professionals like Meyer. It facilitated getting CITES permits when Audubon Zoo imported a male orangutan from Hanover Zoo, Germany. “They want to know your track record of conservation, how long you’ve held the species, your track record with the species,” Meyer says. “I was able to pull it all from ZIMS. Plus, we shared medical and other records with Germany before he arrived. I’m glad we used it.”
Meyer recalls the days of animal records being exchanged instead by “snail mail,” or only being available on microfiche. “The information was there, but it wasn’t connected, like now.”
“Zoos are not a static entity – there are constantly upgrades and changes,” adds Meyer. By way of example, she mentions Audubon’s remodeling and imminent reopening of its long-closed Tropical Birdhouse in the Audubon Zoo: “The Bird Department is focusing on some endangered species [not necessarily tropical birds] and going into more breeding. Also the Back Yard Bird Safe program – what people can do in their own backyard to attract birds.”
Using ZIMS to Support Breeding Programs
Another significant change Meyer notes in the world of zoos and aquariums is one of “mindset and policy” – from once capturing animals in the wild to a concentrated effort in conservation and breeding. “A lot of people still think most of our animals come from the wild, whereas it’s the exact opposite. Almost all the animals now are captive-bred.”
The public’s still learning about this shift, and the regional and global communities that support it, such as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), of which Audubon is a member. In AZA member institutions like Audubon, studbook keepers and collection managers use ZIMS for Studbooks, which integrates with ZIMS for Husbandry, to provide information used to manage the welfare and genetic diversity of breeding pairs and offspring.
Overall, zoos’ “upgrades and changes,” offer non-stop opportunities for education. Even for their staff. As Meyer modestly says, “I’ve been in the business 40 years, and I still say the day that I stop learning is the day I need to walk away from here.”
Tell us how you use ZIMS at work! Email ideas and suggestions for this blog to Support@Species360.org
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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