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ZIMS at Work: Bristol Zoological Society Orchestrates a Move – and Streamlines Operations

This ZIMS at Work feature on Bristol Zoological Society is one of a series of stories about members of non-profit Species360. As part of the global Species360 community, member institutions record and share data to help improve animal welfare and inform species conservation.

Gorillas Touni and her little one, Juni, at Bristol Zoological Gardens. (Photo by Jordan Jones provided by Bristol Zoological Society)

As Bristol Zoological Society (UK) prepares to create a new visitor experience at its much larger 130-acre Wild Place Project site, and sells Bristol Zoo Gardens – its historic 12-acre urban location – the charity is focusing on doing more while achieving best value. The new site will create more natural habitats for animals, and the zoo team will literally cover more ground. That includes recording data on animal care and enclosures – data used to monitor and improve animal welfare, inform medical care, and provide insight to Bristol Zoological Society teams and the greater scientific and conservation community.

We are fortunate to have excellent registrars and a keeper and curator team that understand the benefit of animal records – both for their day-to-day work and also how it can be utilised for the bigger picture of science and animal conservation.

Brian Zimmerman, Director of Conservation and Science, Bristol Zoological Society
At Bristol Zoological Society’s The Wild Place Project, expansive grounds include “Tower Meadow” – home to this 1839 structure by the builder of London’s famous “Big Ben” tower. (Photo credit The Bristol Zoological Society)

As a member of the Species360 community for over 35 years, Bristol Zoological Society is already using ZIMS – the Zoological Information Management System used by the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA), the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), and other zoo and aquarium associations worldwide – to streamline the way that information is recorded and applied throughout the organisation.

“Data is increasingly valuable in all that we do, not only for our own organisation, but to meet new government requirements and to serve the larger conservation community,” says Nigel Simpson, Head of Animal Collections, Bristol Zoological Society. So, while the charity requires data to take a more central role in animal care and welfare, it also must ensure that recording that data is a quick and natural part of daily workflows.

“ZIMS is the ideal tool for providing the evidence that is required to achieve new standards in animal welfare and government reporting, while also easing the burden on staff,” said Simpson. “As we open our new location, we aim to make data entry easier, creating more data entry points, to move towards more people proactively entering more data directly to ZIMS. We are doing this with a focus on staff training and backed by an excellent team of registrars.”

With that data in hand, and along with data shared by more than 1,200 wildlife institutions using ZIMS worldwide, Simpson says that keepers have a strong interest in looking at global insights as well as accessing information about the individual animals in their care. Bristol Zoological Society registrars conduct training sessions and are an accessible point of contact to ensure staff are looking at the right information for their needs, and help to try and build awareness of all that is available in ZIMS. This includes global insights such as animal management and husbandry resources, morbidity insights, health reports and more.

The ease with which they can extract and utilise the data in ZIMS makes it easy to get keepers using the software.

Laura Graham, Animal Registrar, Bristol Zoological Society

Brian Zimmerman, Director of Conservation and Science, Bristol Zoological Society, and a member of non-profit Species360’s Board of Trustees, said, “With Bristol Zoological Society’s transformation programme in full swing and our plans to create the new Bristol Zoo we know that keeping excellent records, utilising the data to its fullest potential and ensuring that all of our teams are fluent in the ZIMS software has never been more important.  We are fortunate to have excellent registrars and a keeper and curator team that understand the benefit of animal records – both for their day-to-day work and also how it can be utilised for the bigger picture of science and animal conservation. Our future plans feature even greater use of ZIMS by keepers, vets and our conservation programme managers.”

Bristol veterinarians are not the only ones using ZIMS’ global insights – keepers are as well. This is especially important as the role of the keeper expands beyond looking after the animal, to also conducting research and welfare audits, enrichment and training sessions, and fulfilling other responsibilities. The modern zookeeper wears many hats, and keepers are often the first to spot a medical issue; ZIMS’ graphing tools, weight comparison reports, and Global Medical Resources help them to be more informed on individuals and species.

When animal care staff enter data directly into ZIMS, zoo registrars shift their focus to animal transfers, auditing data to make it as useful as possible for studbook keepers, reporting on various species and the collection at large, and drawing insight from local and global data. In other words, taking better advantage of the talents of registrars like Jo Rudd and Laura Graham at Bristol Zoological Society.

BIAZA and EAZA Records Keeping Groups are valuable resources

Graham brings a strong data background to her job as well as a master’s degree in biology. Before joining Bristol Zoological Society, she was a data analyst working in market research. She is an active participant in the BIAZA Records Keeping Group and vice chair of the EAZA Records Keeping Group – both of which are instrumental in shaping new features and functionality in ZIMS.

“The zoological world is constantly changing and you have to be adaptable,” says Graham. “That is where the BIAZA Records Keeping Group, and now EAZA’s, has been invaluable in influencing new features and functions in ZIMS.”

“The BIAZA and EAZA Records Keeping Groups are amazing resources. With just one email. you can access all of these wonderful minds with expertise to impart. As a collective, we can influence features being built in ZIMS in the future, we can ask others how they went about recording something, and the more we talk about how we manage data, the greater the movement towards useful standardisation across our institutions. The BIAZA group has been especially strong over the years, and the EAZA Records Group have taken lessons learnt from that experience, Europe-wide, with a hope to strengthen and build our community,” said Graham.

ZIMS is the ideal tool for providing the evidence that is required to achieve new standards in animal welfare.

Nigel Simpson, Head of Animal Collections, Bristol Zoological Society

ZIMS Husbandry Log Templates send data to maintenance, observation, and enclosure records

Within Bristol Zoological Society, Graham and others use Husbandry Log Templates to make it easier for staff to record data on animal care and enclosures as they work. For the aquatic enclosures team, that means, for example, using ZIMS Husbandry Log Templates to align with the keepers’ workflow and streamline the records’ keeping part of their job.

“The Husbandry Log Template is amazing. It is tablet and mobile optimised so that we set up one template and it works with the device of choice for that keeper. The templates have been really effective for setting up a collection of tasks that normally would be recorded in different sections of ZIMS, and our aquarium team in particular have been using them to great effect. For example, rather than having to go into the ZIMS enclosure or husbandry modules, we can set up a template for aquatic enclosure management, such as water quality measurements, maintenance tasks, water changes, and other notes. We can also set up templates for feed logs for multiple individuals, such as how much food is offered and consumed, as well as weights, and put all of that information in the same place,” said Graham.

“This way, not only is ZIMS a centralised point for records, but you can also use the ZIMS templates to centralise the way that data is being entered. Whether that’s data on crayfish or carnivores, data entered in a single Husbandry Log Template could be used to populate fields including enclosure maintenance and observations, environmental measurements, training information, as well as animal weights and feed logs,” she added.

Animal care teams draw insight from ZIMS

An important step, says Graham, is to equip teams with greater insight, within the institution and the scientific community. For example, staff use ZIMS Weight Comparison Report and Animal Graphing Tools to monitor the weight of hand-reared male gorilla Hasani, to check that he’s gaining a healthy amount of weight compared to individuals of the same age.

The Animal Graphing Tools are especially popular among registrars and keepers as well. “One Wild Place Project keeper designed a detailed husbandry log template feed log with different food types and their calories, and the keepers use this to track seasonal food consumption for our bears. This enables the team to observe seasonal variations and to make behavioural predictions that will affect husbandry, for instance, when the bears routinely show dramatic increases in appetite. This allows food orders to be adjusted in advance – and budgeted for,” said Graham.

In another example, the bird team have used weights to eliminate the need to disturb the nest, particularly for endangered and difficult to breed species. By recording a female’s daily weights during the period that she is laying eggs, the team is able to monitor and record egg-laying episodes while reducing the need to continuously inspect the nest site.

The animal transfer process really helps hammer home the value of records sharing and global data in ZIMS, and that staff are contributing to something much bigger than just their own institution.

Laura Graham, Animal Registrar, Bristol Zoological Society
Bristol Zoological Society’s vision is to establish more expansive, natural habitats. (Photo: The Wild Place Project)

Behaviour management teams use ZIMS to track progress

Behaviour management teams rely on ZIMS to track process and progress. “Last year, we rolled out keepers adding animal training information to ZIMS. We have a group of staff called the Behavioural Management Group (BMG) that come together and talk about training and enrichment across species. With the BMG, we discussed how to standardise how we record training information better and worked together to balance keeper time constraints with getting certain data into ZIMS.”

The team records the behaviour the animal is being trained in – for example, taking the blood pressure of the male gorilla Jock – in a training plan that includes the cues that the training team uses, along with the rewards, the background of the animal, and how they respond to training such as the blood pressure sleeve training. All of this goes into ZIMS, and keepers can add sessions to maintain a regular record of how the training is progressing.

ZIMS protects and preserves essential breeding information

A number of Bristol Zoological Society curators and keeping staff are also studbook keepers, or central points of contact for tracking and managing critical populations across regions. “ZIMS for Studbooks has been a really large part of our work environment, both at Bristol Zoological Society and throughout the records community. For registrars, the queries that come through from the studbook keepers have especially highlighted the value of accurate historical records and being able to access them easily,” says Graham.

Opened in 1836, Bristol Zoo Gardens is the world’s oldest surviving provincial zoo – and fifth oldest zoo in the world. To protect and preserve that history, the Society’s librarian Jess Miller is working to digitise all of its archived animal records cards – with the oldest records dating to the 1920s. Once these records are in a digital format and uploaded to ZIMS, studbook keepers and the larger population management community will benefit from even deeper insights to seasonality, litter size, and more.

Worldwide, more than 1,500 studbooks are now managed using ZIMS for Studbooks – a milestone reached early this summer with help from Species360 member associations and leading institutions like Bristol Zoological Society.

ZIMS is a go-to resource during animal transfers

The ability to share individual records, report functions, and Global Medical Resources are especially useful for registrars, vets and curators involved in animal transfers and to fulfill studbook recommendations.

“The animal transfer process really helps hammer home the value of records sharing and global data in ZIMS, and that staff are contributing to something much bigger than just their own institution. Helping to answer questions about topics such as common morbidity issues in an incoming species, or export screening questions like whether certain diseases (like Chytrid or ranavirus) have been present within our collection in the last five years, is all part of what we do with ZIMS. The team can quickly check and export records using ZIMS reports, versus scrolling through scores of data,” she said.

Data is essential to planning species survival strategies

What’s next: As more institutions participate in EAZA and other record- keeping forums, and in recording and sharing higher quality data, Graham believes the impact can make a difference for species struggling to survive in the wild.

“Each data point we collect – an enclosure temperature or an egg laying event – lays the foundation upon which husbandry guidelines and breeding protocols are built. Husbandry insights, like determining optimum breeding environments for a species, could be the difference in helping an EEP species to survive,” she says.

Within Bristol Zoological Society and its plans for the new Bristol Zoo, the use of ZIMS already is expanding from animal care and behavioral management to enclosure maintenance and parameters. An increasing number of teams use Enclosure module in ZIMS and record checks on the integrity of the enclosure on a daily basis using HLTs.

“That’s where we see the power in ZIMS, being able to click and get the information we need right away. We can get it all one place,” says Nigel.

See Bristol Zoological Gardens’ “Strategy to 2035” as it defines a zoo where visitors and animals are immersed in the natural landscape.

To learn more about the BIAZA Records Keeping Group, go to To join the EAZA Records Keeping Google Group, follow this link:

If you would like to share your story about using ZIMS at Work, please reach out to us by emailing — and title your email ZIMS at Work.

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