Animal records have been kept at ZSL London Zoo since 1828, when arrivals, departures, births and deaths were all entered in ‘Day Books’. This information is now stored electronically and takes account of our entire collection that is in excess of 7,000 animals.
In 1902 record cards were first issued for individual animals that recorded the date of arrival, place of origin, sex and name. The cards were updated when the animal died or departed. Nowadays, this information is recorded in a computer programme called ARKS (Animal Record Keeping System).
As there are over 200 species at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo and over 600 species at ZSL London Zoo, the job of recording all animals on site is a gigantic task. Recording details for individual animals such as the Giant Anteaters is relatively straight forward, but when you’re talking about group-living animals such as leaf cutter ant colonies, which can be made up of up to 40,000 inhabitants, this starts to look like an impossible mission.
For some of the invertebrate and fish species we therefore keep a group record, and add or subtract the numbers held, as needed, or even simply record a ‘colony’. At the end of 2005, we had two colonies of Leaf-cutter Ants.
As well as the basic inventory information, we record many other details of the animals' lives, such as introductions, nest building and breeding, progress of youngsters, hoof care, fights, sickness and treatment, weights and measurements, enclosure moves and other interesting behaviour.
Once this information is gathered together into one place it becomes very useful for the management of an individual animal and can also provide insights into a species in general.
ARKS, the electronic system currently used to record and store animal data, is part of a larger system called Species360 ZIMS (Zoological Information Management System). Animal data from nearly 1,100 zoos and aquaria worldwide are sent to the main ZIMS database, creating a fantastic resource that has enhanced the co-operative work of zoos worldwide.
The Species360 website details which species are held in which zoos and therefore provides invaluable data to Species360 members, studbook keepers and species programme managers, who require information for co-operative breeding programmes and animal acquisition.