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Education: Unitec Institute of Technology, Auckland, gives wildlife management students hands-on experience with LearnZIMS for Husbandry and Studbooks

Unitec Institute of Technology, Auckland, uses LearnZIMS and LearnZIMS for Studbooks to give students hands-on experience within Bachelor of Applied Science and Wildlife Management Certification courses.

Guest Author: Tineke Joustra, Instructor, Unitec Institute of Technology, and Regional ZIMS Training

As part of its Bachelor of Applied Science and Wildlife Management programs, Unitec Institute of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand, uses LearnZIMS and LearnZIMS for Studbooks as a platform for animal care and population management courses designed and taught by previous Auckland Zoo registrar Tineke Joustra. Here, Tineke shares her experience using ZIMS to teach core tenants of wildlife care and conservation. LearnZIMS is part of Education and Outreach programs made possible through the Species360 member community.

I started working with (animal records systems) ARKS and SPARKS during an internship at Zoo Emmen (now Wildlands Adventure Zoo Emmen) in 2002. Back then there was talk about replacing ARKS with a new programme. In 2009 I started working for Auckland Zoo as the project manager for ZIMS since they were one of the early adopters for ZIMS. Part of the job included checking that the Unitec students who would do their work placements at the zoo, were familiar with the use of ARKS.

LearnZIMS gives students a better understanding of population management and day-to-day decisions faced by zoo staff.

It was clear that most of the students hardly knew how to use the programme, due to their limited exposure to the software. Unitec Academic Leader Dr. Lorne Roberts and I discussed the possibility of increasing the records aspect of the Unitec curriculum, and I proposed to design a records lecture and assignment as part of the Captive Wild Animal certificate (Level 4) course in 2011.

Once zoos in New Zealand had migrated to ZIMS it was important to also move Unitec students to LearnZIMS as soon as practical. To earn the certificate, the assignment is made up of transactions and events that occur in a fictional institution. Students are required to record animals’ births, deaths and transfers as well as day-to-day husbandry notes, medical observations, etc.

Unitec Institute of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand, population management students with wildlife management instructor and Tineke Joustra.

Once students complete their data entry (which on average takes 6 hours), they submit 10 reports (e.g. note retrieval, pedigree chart, specimen reports, etc) for marking. I particularly enjoy the creativity some of the students use in their assignments, such as adding photos to the animals they create in LearnZIMS.

To date, the results have been great, from my personal experience, students who end up working in the zoo industry show more confidence and accuracy with record keeping and the Species360 software. Furthermore, the feedback received from the students demonstrates that they have a better understanding of the importance of record keeping in general.

After the successful transition of students in the level 4 certificate course, Unitec decided to offer a population management course to students completing a Bachelor of Applied Science (Level 7). Due to my background in population management, I was asked to design and implement a captive wild animal population management course in 2015. This course would give a great opportunity for students to get hands-on with programmes like SPARKS and PMx.

Since 2018, we have replaced SPARKS with LearnZIMS for Studbooks, which has proven to be a wonderful new tool for our curriculum.The course is comprised of three parts: the theory behind population management; population management software; and factors affecting population management. Three assessments are completed during the semester: 1) Compiling a summative report on the theory of population management; 2) Compiling a studbook and writing a report with recommendations; and 3) Completing an overall exam on the entire course content.

For the studbook component of the course, the students are assigned a species and a matching taxon report to enable them to set up their studbooks. Once they have added all the individual data in LearnZIMS (which tends to take between 4 – 8 hours) they export their data to PMx. Following this they are asked to compile a report which demonstrates the demographics and genetics of the population as well as proposing recommendations for the population (e.g. breeding, transfer, importation, etc). 

For the students being trained in the use of the software, this is possibly the highlight of this course. We are now in the fourth year of this course and students continue to show real interest in the actual workings of the software. LearnZIMS has been very beneficial to my lectures, not only does it give the students a better understanding of the “population management” topic, it also gives them a greater understanding of management decisions faced by zoo staff and population managers.

I highly recommend the use of LearnZIMS to teaching partners as well as zoological institutions. This tool can help improve your employee’s understanding of live ZIMS without the concern of “doing something wrong.”

Tineke Joustra is lead instructor at Unitec Institute of Technology in New Zealand, an educational member of Species360.

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