Highland Wildlife Blog – A Keeper’s Day

February 5, 2014 § Leave a comment


By Douglas Richardson, Head of Living Collections, RZSS Highland Wildlife Park

Every 31st of December, a notoriously slow news day, there is usually a stream of stories about animal keepers in zoos taking the end of year animal census; a legal requirement under the Zoo License Act.  The story usually comes with fairly hackneyed pictures of various individuals with clip-board and pen in hand and a suitably exotic creature looking on as it is counted.  When looking at a range of these stories, it struck me that the general public may come away with the idea that the only time we know exactly how many animals we have is at the end of each year when we formally count them.  This is of course not the case.

Karnali, male Bacrtian camel by Alex Riddell

Karnali, male Bacrtian camel by Alex Riddell

A zoo keeper’s job covers anything involved with caring for and meeting the needs of all the animals in their charge.  Feeding them and clearing-up large amounts of waste material, of all sorts and consistencies, on a daily basis is obviously a large proportion of their daily workload.  But the most important task that is done every single day, without fail and without exception, is to make sure that all their animals are accounted for, healthy, and ideally in the same enclosure they were in the day before.  Any changes in the numerical, reproductive or health status of the animals is meticulously recorded at the end of each day in each section’s daily report books and diaries.  The following day, all this information is entered into an international, online animal record keeping system called ZIMS, which stand for Zoological Information Management System.

All of the records that we at the Highland Wildlife Park and the other 800 plus member institutions contribute to ZIMS, gives us access to an enormous data base of over 2.6 million individual animals from over 10,000 species.  So what use is all this data when it comes to the day to day care of our animals?

Karnali  by Alex Riddell

Karnali by Alex Riddell

When our male Bactrian camel arrived at the Park in April 2009, he was a runt.  The two adult females didn’t let him feed properly and so we had to separate him each day to make sure he got his food without being bullied by the girls.  To make sure that he was putting on weight, using food as an incentive, the keepers trained him to walk onto a set of large, heavy-duty scales.  As he became adult, we wanted to continue to monitor him and gauge his development.  Because of our access to the ZIMS data base, we were able to compare his weight with all the recorded weights for male Bactrian camels of a similar age that had been recorded.  Karnali, as he is called, is currently coming in at 614kg, down from a high of 730kg, but he is just coming out of the rut when paying attention to the female camels is a lot more important to him than eating, which is normal.

“First published in the Strathspey & Badenoch Herald”.

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