To ensure populations of genetically healthy animals and to encourage the sharing of animals between zoos and aquariums, rather than buying, selling or taking animals from the wild, our members take part in coordinated breeding programmes. There are different levels of breeding programmes, from global and regional down to programmes within individual collections. At a European level, breeding programmes are managed by the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums (EAZA) and through their programmes and studbooks animals are moved to ensure the best possible matches. Coordinating these moves are studbook keepers who have specialist knowledge of particular species and can help decide where each animal should be placed to best assist the programme.
To ensure the welfare of animals in human care a number of population management tools can be employed. These are aimed at preventing the negative consequences of uncontrolled breeding, such as overcrowding and inbreeding:
- Single-sex groups – some animals can be housed in single-sex groups and in some cases this may emulate their social structure in the wild.
- Contraception – in a similar way to humans, there are a number of contraceptive devices and procedures that can be used to control the breeding cycle of male and female animals. However, these may be irreversible or have side effects.
- Humane culling / euthanasia – this is one population management tool that may be considered when alternative options could have a negative impact on the welfare of the individual or group.
Each situation is individual and depends on the circumstances and species involved therefore decisions about which population management tool to employ are made on a case by case basis.
The BIAZA Records Working Group works closely with Defra, EAZA and Species360, to advise and stay up to date with the most recent developments and ideas in zoo records and to communicate these to BIAZA members.
The majority of BIAZA members now utilise online databases such as the Zoological Information Management System (ZIMS) to maintain accurate records of the animals they care for. These systems have the capacity to record data on a range of aspects of an individual's care, such as diet, behaviour, and training history, as well as veterinary records.
Good animal records are a vital part of animal management, allowing for evidence-based decision making and the advancement of data sharing throughout zoos. Records provide an ever-expanding source of data and information upon which to base husbandry, health, breeding, conservation and collection planning decisions.