From Snails to Tigers! – The animal count begins at Banham Zoo!
Zookeepers at Banham Zoo welcomed the New Year in with the biggest job of all on the zoo calendar, counting each and every animal in their collection for its annual stocktake, and this year they got a helping hand at the start of the collection from Leo Crane who won the opportunity to help the keepers with this mammoth task via a Facebook competition his mother entered.
The annual stocktake forms part of the licensing requirements for all UK zoos and wildlife parks, every birth, death, new arrival, departure as well as their health and behaviour has to be recorded. This information is used to not only ensure the animals are being looked after properly, but also to provide valuable data to the coordinators of managed breeding programmes.
Some programmes manage species that are critically endangered in the wild such as the Ruppell’s griffon vulture here at Banham Zoo and the black and white ruffed lemur at our sister park Africa Alive!. The coordinators are experts within their field and come from all over the world. They will receive the annual inventories from us, they then use specialised software to help them to determine where it is genetically best to send animals that have been bred in our zoos and which animals should breed in the coming year. This helps ensure that captive populations are strong and healthy.
So how do the keepers count this many animals?
Keepers are assigned different sections within the zoo and are in charge of the care of the animals within that section. The animal records keeper creates inventories of how many animals of a particular species the zoo should have according to the global database known as ZIMS (Zoological Information Management System). The keepers then use these inventories and compare the amounts shown, with how many animals are actually in the enclosure and as long at the animal records keeper and the keepers have done their job correctly throughout the year, the numbers should be the same. This information is then sent to the local authority in accordance with the zoo licencing act.
Of course some animals are easier to count than others. Cheetahs are quite easy to spot! (excuse the pun), whilst our education officers have the slightly trickier job of counting around 100 Madagascar hissing cockroaches at Banham Zoo and around 150 giant land snails at Africa Alive!. This involves taking them out of their tank and then painstakingly counting them back in, one at a time.