Better Zoological Information Systems for Zoos and Aquariums
ZIMS Project Manager, Walt Disney World, Animal Programs, PO Box 10000,
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830, USA; E-mail Sue.DuBois@disney.com
data collection and animal records are very important to the zoo and
aquarium profession. They are
critical for basic animal management and for achieving our conservation,
research, and education goals. Unfortunately,
zoological facilities are currently struggling with outdated software and
inconsistent records that hinder our ability to efficiently and
scientifically manage the animals in our care.
A most notable inadequacy of the current system is that it does not
track the history of group animals, such as fish and invertebrates, or
environmental conditions to the extent necessary for many aquatic
collections. In an effort to solve this problem, an international,
coordinated effort, called the Zoological Information Management System (ZIMS)
Project, is underway to improve how animal data is managed.
following is a brief summary of the processes that have lead us to this
point in the project and a vision for the future. Our goal in making this
presentation is to make more people aware of the need for improved animal
information technology and to solicit additional support for the project
from the various regions and institutions.
of the software programs for zoo and aquarium animal data management have
been developed and distributed by the International Species Information
System (ISIS). ISIS, founded
in 1974, is an international non-profit membership organization that
serves nearly 550 zoological institutional members from 54 countries
worldwide. ISIS also serves
as a central repository for institutional data.
Although ISIS is dedicated to serving the zoological community, it
is a small, member-owned non-profit organization that has not been able to
keep pace with the technological advancements in information management
and does not have the resources to ensure the accuracy of the records it
receives. Unfortunately, this has left many members of the zoological
community searching for alternate data management strategies that will
adequately meet their needs.
an effort to improve their animal collection records, several institutions
and some zoo and aquarium associations have developed their own software.
For example, the Australasian Regional Association of Zoological
Parks and Aquaria (ARAZPA) developed REGASP, software for managing
institutional and regional collection planning data. REGASP is now used by
several regional associations. The
Zoological Society of London supported the development of software to
manage invertebrate populations. Several individual institutions have developed in-house
inventory systems that meet their individual needs but still export data
to a central ISIS database. In
addition, veterinarians have been struggling for several years to find a
replacement for the DOS-based medical records system, MedARKS.
January 2000 the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) formed a
Strategic Software Task Force to examine the data needs of the
Association. On the
task force’s recommendation, AZA hired a technology consultant to
meet with zoo and aquarium experts
and ISIS, to produce a study
of the current state of our information systems, and to recommend several
courses of action. ISIS also
began broad-based, visionary planning for an ideal animal database and, in
February 2000, convened a “Futures Search” meeting of international
stakeholders to address software issues and guide ISIS’ vision and
separate meetings resulted in the same answer.
What is needed is the immediate development of a global animal
management database that is Web-enabled and contains up-to-the-minute
information that is both accurate and secure.
Although the database must be flexible enough to meet specific
regional needs, there must still be a central, “core” database that
allows free and easy exchange of information between all participants.
that time, ISIS has continued refining its vision for the future while
working to improve its current software and data.
In addition, other committees have been formed to address the
profession’s database needs on a more formal level.
in the Australasian region identified a strong need to improve and
facilitate communication and cooperation within and between Australasian
zoos and aquariums, for the attainment of regional collection management
and conservation goals. By developing and implementing the regional
collection planning software, REGASP, zoos are able to make joint
decisions regarding species common to their collections, while maintaining
the broadest genetic diversity of animals within zoo resources. This helps
us to create a regional collection, which can act as a major scientific
and conservation resource.
August 2000, AZA created the Animal Data Information Systems Committee (ADISC)
to determine the association’s needs for animal information.
In July 2001, AZA hired the Inteq Group who, after a series of
meetings with zoo and aquarium experts in North America, developed a
high-level project plan for the design of an integrated animal information
this time, the international zoological community began coming together as
a whole with the formation of the Global Animal Data Group (GADG).
GADG first met in June 2001 as an informal group of representatives
from zoos, aquariums, zoological associations
and conservation organisations from around the world to discuss
their needs for an improved animal information system.
The group agreed with the previously stated needs for a
comprehensive database while expressing concern that it must be developed
through a truly international effort.
the second GADG meeting held in February 2002, representatives from
national and regional zoo and aquarium associations (AMACZOOA, ARAZPA, AZA,
CAZA, EAZA, FUNPZA, PAAZAB), WAZA, ISIS, and other conservation
organizations (SSC’s SIS, BCIS) met in Costa Rica to further discuss how
to coordinate efforts to develop and maintain a global animal information
database system that will best meet the needs of the world’s zoological
institutions. Delegates to the GADG meeting identified the need to form an
international committee to further the development of a global zoological
information management system (ZIMS). The purpose of this committee, which
was named IADISC, International Animal Data Information Systems Committee,
is to provide technical guidance on a project to develop and maintain a
comprehensive information system that supports a wide range of animal
management and conservation activities associated with zoological
institutions (aquariums and zoos) and the zoological community worldwide.
will serve as a global mechanism for managing the technical processes
necessary to move forward with the planning, design, development, and
deployment of a new zoological information management system. In addition,
the group agreed that the efforts of AZA’s Animal Data Information
Systems Committee (ADISC) be used as the basis for the international
project while emphasizing that international participation is necessary to
ensure its success.
will consist of representatives from each of the regional zoo and aquarium
associations who have scientific and/or technical expertise in the care
and management of zoological collections. IADISC members will coordinate
many of the project related activities including:
Communicating project activities to stakeholders
Interacting with regional data management committees
Participating in data standards and system design workshops
Assessing current and future technology capabilities within regions
Developing and reviewing technical documentation associated with
GADG representatives agreed that, although there are aspects of the
governance that must evolve, it is important to maintain the momentum of
projects begun by other regions. It is hoped that IADISC will have
representation from all regions. IADISC
will work closely with ISIS to achieve our common goals with respect to
developing the next generation of animal information systems.
ISIS is exploring a restructuring of its governance and an
expansion of its organizational structure, so that it will have the
capacity to provide expanded services to the entire zoological community.
any new software system is a complex process. The ZIMS Project is no
exception and is made additionally complex by the diversity of our
zoological systems and the diversity of our institutional stakeholders. Information technology projects go through specific phases of
development including initial visioning and planning, business analysis,
design, construction, and implementation.
The ZIMS Project is in the early days of business analysis and is
anticipated to take several years for delivery of a software product. In
addition to development of the software, there is much work to be done
developing data standards and building the infrastructure for ongoing
maintenance and support.
mission of the ZIMS Project is to develop, deploy and maintain a
comprehensive information system to support a wide range of animal
management and conservation activities associated with zoological
institutions and the zoological community. Phase I of the project produced
several initial planning documents which are available for viewing at http://www.zims.org.
Through a series of workshops, high-level data needs were documented in a
conceptual data model. A
Project Charter was also produced which describes the general work
processes that must be supported including inventory, veterinary,
husbandry and management. It also provides a very preliminary assessment
of our current technology and possible web-based deployment scenarios and
describes the risks specific to the project.
Phase II, another series of workshops with international participation are
designed to develop a Request for Proposals (RFP) from vendors to develop
the initial inventory and veterinary modules. These modules were
identified as priority and will basically replace the current ARKS and
MedARKS software used by many institutions but with significant structural
improvements to the database and utilizing new web technology.
The RFP will be ready for distribution in September or October of
2002. At the same time that
the technical aspects of the project are moving forward, there are several
efforts underway to raise funds for development. Very preliminary
estimates for developing the inventory and veterinary modules range from
US $5-10 million. Once a
vendor has been selected, there will be a need for increased involvement
by stakeholders and business experts in helping to identify specific
requirements for the system. It
is expected that an additional number of design and data standards
workshops will be held over the next year.
zoological institutions are very reliant on information to provide
adequate animal care and participate in conservation programs. We cannot
afford to lose any more time in bringing our information technology and
data management practices up to speed.
It is extremely important to the management of our collections that
we share data globally and that we have confidence in the quality of the
data. . Building a better
information management system will require many hours of discussion
through the design phase and a commitment to developing new standards for
data processing. Long-term benefits will be realized in a system that can
grow with our global needs and utilize new technology.