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ZIMS at Work: Managing diverse species and habitats with the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland

Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s renowned king penguin Brigadier Sir Nils Olav, mascot and colonel-in-chief of the Norwegian King’s Guard. (Photo courtesy of RZSS).

The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) has a long history of helping to preserve wildlife and even re-introduce endangered species to natural habitats. The institution has helped return the wild Partula snail to French Polynesia and sustain dwindling populations of chimpanzees in Uganda. Closer to home, RZSS has re-introduced wildcats to the Scottish Highlands, pine hoverflies to Cairngorms National Park, and Scottish beavers to the forests and lochs where they once thrived.

Much of this work begins with the species experts in residence at RZSS’ Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park. Here, husbandry and medical teams care for more than 180 different species, and dozens of unique enclosures and habitats.

But working across two very different locations, separated by miles of Scottish coastline, can be challenging for staff. In particular, there is a need to ensure that rotating shifts are able to communicate what is going on with any one animal or group, at any given time. To ensure the best possible care and medical treatment, both today and well into the future, staff keep meticulous records in the Species360 Zoological Information Management System (ZIMS).

“The diversity (of species) across two sites keeps us on our toes. The efficiency of using ZIMS is being able to look at notes for another site and consult with team members no matter where we are or what animal is in our care,” says Dr. Adam Naylor, Senior Veterinary Surgeon, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.

To learn more, we spoke with Dr. Naylor and RZSS Curator Jo Elliott about how their teams use ZIMS and its impact on animal care. We found that expanding the number of staff directly using ZIMS has yielded benefits, including more timely and accurate insight to husbandry and medical activities.

RZSS Senior Veterinary Surgeon Dr. Adam Naylor and keeper Kristy conduct a first health check on a red panda. (Photo courtesy of RZSS).

Interconnected husbandry and medical records are “powerful”

“What’s most powerful is the fact that ZIMS records are all interconnected, husbandry and medical and studbooks. This makes a huge difference in visibility to the full care and welfare of the animal, as opposed to being three separate systems, and makes everything so much easier and more efficient,” said Elliott.

While connecting husbandry and medical care, ZIMS also provides a view of species care for individuals and groups in different locations. “We set ZIMS to manage two different sites but under the same organization. ZIMS is quite flexible so that we can manage, for example, Scottish wildcats in both places,” said Elliott.

Traditionally, RZSS record keeping was done by registrars; keepers would write in a daily log and send a copy up to the office, where it was entered into ZIMS. That changed in 2019, when animal care teams at Edinburgh Zoo began entering their own records in ZIMS.

“A big reason for keepers using ZIMS directly is so they also know how to pull information out to help them in caring for their animals and groups. Before, they would pop up to the office and ask a registrar,” said Elliott.

Of 50 keepers using ZIMS at Edinburgh Zoo, the fastest adopters are those caring for penguins – of which there are many! “They got their hands on ZIMS and really love it. They look up pedigrees and medical records and have normalized the use of ZIMS day to day. They know immediately, has an animal’s weight dropped. You need those champions to help others come on board,” says Elliott.

RZSS is instrumental in saving species including the pine hoverfly (pictured left), partula snail (center). The charity has been involved with Scottish wildcat (right) conservation for over a decade and is currently leading a project that includes development of the UK’s first dedicated wildcat conservation breeding for release centre and aims to secure the future of the species through reintroductions into the Scottish Highlands. (Photo courtesy of RZSS).

Using ZIMS to support reintroduction programs

ZIMS also takes a central role for teams working to re-introduce species to natural habitats. “We began the reintroduction program for the Scottish beaver, of which none were left in the wild, right about the time ZIMS was introduced. A couple of things were happening concurrently: this was the first mammal to be reintroduced to the wild in the UK, and RZSS was also one of the first institutions to use ZIMS. It presented a great opportunity and we used ZIMS to track our beaver individuals through import, quarantine, and release. We tracked the exact geolocation of releases, and kept track once released.”

ZIMS for Medical informs teams across sites and species

Efficiency and sharing information also emerges when discussing the impact of ZIMS for RZSS vet teams.  In all, the charity’s five veterinarians and three veterinary nurses use ZIMS as they work with primates, hoofstock, various species of cats, other mammals, birds, and reptiles. That means all medical records, lab results, prescriptions, and anesthesia summaries are recorded in ZIMS.

“It’s the standard and a huge part of our work day. It’s very helpful for our team to use it throughout the day, to check on a group or quickly look across the board at our case load,” said RZSS Senior Veterinary Surgeon Dr. Adam Naylor.

“ZIMS is so tailored to the needs of the veterinary surgeon. It is fundamental to everything that we are doing in a day, from managing clinical notes to animal records, putting in drugs as we dispense them, checking back on histories. It’s night and day compared to what we had before,” said Dr. Naylor.

“The ZIMS for Medical calendar is our main calendar for organizing our day and scheduling re-check appointments,” he added. “I use the ZIMS calendar more than I use (Microsoft Office application) Outlook. Being able to quickly schedule a re-check and share the right information is key when we don’t have continuity among veterinarians across the sites.”

Handsome seven-year-old Lucu is one of a pair of Sumatran tigers at Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s Edinburgh Zoo. (Photo courtesy of RZSS).

ZIMS is tailored to the needs of the veterinary surgeon. It is fundamental to everything that we are doing in a day.

Dr. Adam Naylor, Senior Veterinary Surgeon, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland

Where little is published, Global Medical Resources share insight to species

RZSS veterinarians consult ZIMS Global Medical Resources like Expected Test Results, Anesthesia Summaries, “Search by Diagnosis,” and Drug Usage Extracts for added insight.

“When a zoo veterinary team is working with a species for which there is very little published or very little known, ZIMS is essential for pulling up ranges and to see what other colleagues have done,” adds Naylor, who is also Vet Advisor for EAZA’s King penguin EEP, an ex-situ programme aimed at conserving healthy populations of animals in captivity.

Gentoo penguin studbook combines ZIMS and non-ZIMS records

Colleague Elliott manages the studbook for another EAZA EEP, for the Gentoo penguin. “Gentoos are particularly important to zoos and aquariums because they are such engaging representatives of their unique sub-Antarctic homelands and to climate change education and awareness,” said Elliott.

The ‘awkward on land, graceful in water’ species is popular and Elliott coordinates with nearly 30 different institutions to help ensure genetically diverse, healthy populations. Institutions that are members of EAZA use ZIMS to record husbandry data, so each of their gentoos is automatically linked to the EAZA studbook. Those not using ZIMS keep records on individuals and groups of gentoos in spreadsheets like Microsoft Office application Excel – requiring Elliott to manually import those records.

“Data from EAZA members just pops up on ZIMS, but other organizations still send records to me in Excel. For those (institutions), it can be a mishmash of data and I manually enter everything into ZIMS. Once all the data is there, I can assess and make recommendations,” said Elliott.

Elliott is also studbook keeper for the red-fronted macaw, a species that has been closely managed by EAZA for a long time. “For the macaws, all of the institutions are EAZA members and on ZIMS so it is all very straightforward.”

Sharing medical notes with EAZA EEP Vet Advisors

Though they hold a small number of koalas, RZSS is a critical part of the EAZA EEP for koalas because they had one of the most successful breeding pairs in the program. But the marsupials are notoriously sensitive and challenging to care for, requiring a specialized diet and monitoring for unique disease such as variants of the Koala Retrovirus virus (KoRV).

A pair of koalas at Edinburgh Zoo. (Photo courtesy of RZSS/Lorna Hughes)

To help ensure the welfare of their koalas and success of the program, the RZSS team stays in close contact with Koala EEP Vet Advisor Baptiste Mulot, head veterinarian at ZooParc de Beauval, France. “We are in touch with Baptiste regularly,” said Elliott. “Koalas are not the easiest animals, and Baptiste has done loads of work with them including knowledge of viruses.”

In situations where teams consult with a veterinarian at another location, RZSS can select an option in ZIMS to share records – allowing experts like Baptiste to better provide input. For transfers, RZSS gives the other institution access to the full husbandry and medical records so they can see what’s happened throughout the animal’s lifetime.

We used ZIMS to track our beaver individuals through import, quarantine, and release. We tracked the exact geolocation of species, and kept track even once released.

Jo Elliott, Curator, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland

Every day ends with a summary report of cases

At the end of each day, the RZSS veterinary team circulates a ZIMS for Medical report summarizing all medical activities to zookeepers and collection managers.

“We send it to all of the senior keepers and team leaders, so all keepers are caught up and notes are in one summary document. If a keeper is off work that day, the person on duty can see what’s been done. We do this every day. We call it the vet round, the daily email before we go home,” said Dr. Naylor.

“ZIMS is so adaptable for (our) different species. Whether we manage them as individuals or groups or by enclosure, we can still manage them efficiently using ZIMS because it’s got that capability, from a group of tiny snails to larger individual animals,” said Elliott.

Many thanks to RZSS for their continued work sustaining diversity of life and connecting people with nature. We appreciate all that you do, and are grateful to be a part of this important work through ZIMS.

In 2010, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s Edinburgh Zoo was entrusted with the last captive individual of the Partula taeniata simulans subspecies, which they have since bred back to a safe level of several hundred. This work was recognized in 2012 with the prestigious “BIAZA Award for Significant Contribution to Conservation Breeding” for saving this subspecies of Partula snail from extinction. RZSS subsequently reintroduced the subspecies back to its native Moorea, sending a total of 646 of these snails back in 2016 and 2018. (Photo courtesy of RZSS).

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