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Animal Welfare Case Study: How Como Zoo used ZIMS for Care and Welfare to help save an emperor tamarin named Lara

Earlier this fall, Como Zoo Director Michelle Furrer, Primate Keeper Madison Johnson, and Senior Keeper Allison Jungheim shared their experiences with Species360 development and member support teams during a “Lunch and Learn.” They helped us to capture the story to share with you, here.

At the onset of illness, an animal’s daily care givers are often are the first to feel that nagging worry that things are not quite right. But describing subtle changes, such as neglecting to move indoors at night, eating less than usual, or becoming more subdued, can be difficult to convey.

A fast response saved Lara, who had been an important part of a successful species breeding program at Como Zoo in the U.S. Post-surgery, she regained her full health and vitality – much to the relief and joy of her care team.

“When you are talking through what you are seeing with an animal, your worst fear is failing to give veterinary staff what they need to act early on behalf of the animal. Walking into a conversation with piles of paper doesn’t really help either. You can come off as a bit of a crazy person,” laughs Madison Johnson, Primate Keeper at Como Park Zoo in St. Paul, Minnesota, in the U.S.

To capture information for each animal or group, in a way that can be more easily monitored and shared, Como Zoo staff has begun using Species360’s ZIMS for Care and Welfare. The module enables care staff to identify and track indicators that are most meaningful, and to visually graph changes over time.

At Como Zoo, keepers and veterinary staff are using the tool to better manage the well-being of individual animals like emperor tamarin Lara, who presented her care team with a significant scare at age nine.

Once healthy, Lara was able to join her mate and son Poe, pictured here, in a new location. She continues to be an ambassador for her species.

Saving an emperor tamarin pregnant with twins

Pregnant with twins, a favorite female tamarin at Como Zoo failed to come in for the night. Her keepers thought it odd, but she seemed otherwise fine. The next morning, however, the expectant mom was staying on the ground, shaking, and not interested in eating. After examinations failed to reveal a cause, Lara’s caregivers nursed her along with more frequent, smaller meals throughout the day.

Lara recovered, and had two healthy babies. But a few months later, the evening behavior – neglecting to come in for the night – repeated itself. Taken as a singular event, that might not have raised alarms. But given Lara’s history, staff were immediately on alert.

This time, staff used ZIMS for Care and Welfare to record shifting indicators, tracking a roller coaster of changes that, when graphed, clearly illustrated overlapping concerns. Those graphs, and the data points behind them, helped veterinary staff to move quickly and efficiently. Lara was transferred to a nearby university animal hospital where she was diagnosed with what could have been a fatal condition.

The fast response saved Lara. Post-surgery, the tamarin regained her full health and vitality – much to the relief and joy of her care team.

The win for Lara is meaningful for her species as a whole. Not only was Lara a much-loved individual, she was also a key part of a wider program. As one of the few institutions that has successfully bred emperor tamarins, Como Zoo was scheduled to take in a new female that would help to ensure diversity within the wider population of emperor tamarins. Once healthy, Lara was able to move with her mate and son to a new location, where she continues to be an ambassador for her species.

This ZIMS for Care and Welfare chart for Lara’s offspring Poe reflects what “normal” looked like for an emperor tamarin. (Source: Como Zoo)

Putting ZIMS for Care and Welfare in place

Primate keeper Johnson helped to lead the adoption of ZIMS for Care and Welfare, introduced by the Species360 community as part of a worldwide emphasis on ensuring the well-being of animals. She and Michelle Furrer, Zoo Director, Como Zoo, asked keepers across the zoos many species to define the indicators used to evaluate how an animal is doing.  

Johnson used ZIMS to customize the welfare reports for each keeper, narrowing the choices to just those that really matter for the amphibians, birds, insects, reptiles, or mammals in their care. The indicators autofill as normal, and allow them to quickly record behaviors that are out of the norm.

“The ZIMS for Care and Welfare module is so easy to adapt to each taxa, and we love that,” adds Furrer. “When it is time to consider a change or treatment for an animal, we use the report to go to the management team or to veterinary staff and advocate for our animal.”

Lara’s care team at Como Zoo used ZIMS for Care and Welfare to help convey what they were observing across a range of key indicators. Source: Como Zoo

Graphs provide a vivid look at changes in these key indicators over time. By clicking on the indicators that they want to include, care staff can show those measures that are relevant to the case.

“ZIMS for Care and Welfare gives me the ability to communicate what I am seeing, versus trying to describe in words or using paper logs. By graphing trends using real data points, we can provide actual quantifiable evidence to support treatments or change,” said Johnson.

ZIMS for Care and Welfare was developed by Species360 in partnership with the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) and 23 individual institutions around the world, and is part of a global initiative to ensure the welfare of animals and groups. The module is part of ZIMS for Husbandry, and is available to all Species360 members at no additional cost. It enables animal care teams to track changes across a wide range of factors affecting the well-being of an individual, including behavior, health, environment, nutrition intake, mental domain, as well as other indicators that individual teams choose to add.

Since new treatments or medications can often take a couple of days to show results, Como Zoo staff use ZIMS Care and Welfare to track the subtle or significant changes, so that keepers and veterinary staff can evaluate the effect over time. The data points and trend charts provide perspective that guides near-term decisions and future cases.

Using the ZIMS module, whether on a tablet or laptop or back at the desk, has helped keepers adopt a more consistent approach to tracking the welfare of an animal, according to Allison Jungheim, Senior Keeper, Como Zoo. Not every situation warrants frequent evaluations, such as species with fewer behavioral changes, she adds. But for animals and groups with more complex social structures, the tracking tool is critical to improving care.

Staff document welfare checks weekly or monthly, depending on the animal, group, or species. When an animal is in trouble, staff monitor and record indicators more frequently to better inform decisions regarding environmental, medical, dietary, or other changes.

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