ZooParc de Beauval is more than a popular visitor destination in France; it is a valuable source of leadership and insight within the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) community. With more than 800 species in its care, the Zoo extends expertise in animal welfare, veterinary care, and conservation planning. Beauval staff advise on care of species including koala and manage regional studbooks for the rhinoceros hornbill, bearded emperor tamarin, palm cockatoo, and red-vented cockatoo.
The Zoo’s scientific value also includes an immense collection of historical biological samples that could hold the key to sustaining threatened species. Tissue, blood, and other samples provide insight to the detection and treatment of diseases and other discoveries that are essential to the care, welfare and survival of species.
In all, ZooParc de Beauval maintains as many as 15,000 historical biological samples. Storing those samples is one challenge. Another is tracking each sample, its origin, and any test results, says Beauval Head Veterinarian Dr. Baptiste Mulot.
Traditionally records were entered in over-the-counter software like Excel and kept at the zoo. But those files could be inconsistent, lacking the standardization of fields and analytic tools required to draw species insights needed by the institution and larger community.
We succeed in doing something that is so important for the animal and its care teams. An animal can travel around the world within his life and it will have just one medical file with all info about it. – Dr. Baptiste Mulot, Head Veterinarian, ZooParc de Beauval.Dr. Baptiste Mulot, Head Veterinarian, ZooParc de Beauval
Creating a shared solution to benefit an entire community
Beauval was not alone. This was a situation repeated across individual zoo, aquatic, and wildlife institutions worldwide – many of whom lacked the resources to store samples at all. The answer, agreed a team of experts and members of EAZA, lay in a shared approach.
“We knew that it would be great to have a common bank for all of Europe’s institutions. In many cases, these samples would go to labs and be lost forever,” said Dr. Mulot.
Recognizing the critical nature of biological samples for animal care and species conservation, EAZA established an international biobank to improve the way that samples are stored and tracked. Institutions send samples to one of four assigned EAZA Biobank hubs, including Copenhagen Zoo, the Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp (Antwerp Zoo), the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (Edinburgh Zoo), and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) in Berlin. The hub keep the historical collection and the institution is able to go back and use the samples later.
Also needed was a solution for recording and tracking those samples. The EAZA Biobank Working Group partnered with non-profit Species360 to create a shared, standardized resource to record and track biological samples. The solution would be made available for use by institutions worldwide.
The EAZA Biobank Working Group and Dr. Mulot, as chair of the EAZWV/EAZA joint Biological Resources and Data Sharing Workgroup, provided input as Species360 adapted the existing ZIMS for Medical Sample Storage module. Features were upgraded and new ones added, establishing a better, more modern system and one that would support EAZA’s hub system. Development was supported by funds from ZooParc de Beauval, the Royal Zoological Association of Antwerp (KMDA), and EAZA, while the Biobank itself was supported by the European Union LIFE+ fund.
“Beauval was among the first to use ZIMS for Medical in Europe (when it replaced the previous MedArks system), and I’m very much an advocate. The idea for the Biobank was to use, as much as possible, the ZIMS system that was already in place and to determine how we would manage samples and the four hubs system,” said Dr. Mulot.
The strength of EAZA is the network of members, he adds. “Because we are directly linked to EAZA, the dynamic is really good and there is already a lot of collaboration. Adding in the management of genetic matter, tissue, blood samples is a natural step.”
Transferring historical records to ZIMS Sample Storage
Upon the release of ZIMS Sample Storage in 2020, ZooParc de Beauval set a course to ensure its immense collection of historical samples, and the data describing each, would be moved to the new, more secure solution. Doing so meant more than protecting its own resources; placing Beauval’s historical data in ZIMS meant contributing to global knowledge of species in perpetuity.
Today, every time the Beauval veterinary team has an animal in their care, they collect samples and send the bioboxes to their assigned EAZA biobank hub at Antwerp Zoo.
“The idea is at one point to have at least one sample (in the EAZA Biobank) for every individual,” says Mulot. “It’s key to our success to have a united EAZA effort for the region. Because it is an EAZA entity we can communicate why the Biobank is important for animal welfare and conservation, and promote its use.”
Species360 Global Medical Resources are essential for veterinary teams
Taking that shared data one step further, the Global Medical Resources found in ZIMS deliver the blood norms, weight norms, anesthesia guidelines, expected test results and other key insights needed by veterinarians caring for various species.
”The great thing about ZIMS for Medical is to be able to share all of this data. Having blood results, blood norms, age-related advice from all institutions about drugs or anesthesia, having data about death or diseases, all of this information and medical data is essential to what we do every day. For example, we would be lost without ZIMS because teams would not know if blood samples were normal,” said Dr. Mulot.
ZIMS connects samples, medical history, animal welfare “all in one place”
“Now all of this is connected to samples, including the animal’s medical history and welfare all in one place. ZIMS can be frightening when you start to work with it. But when you start to use it and are used to it and use templates it becomes quite easy and the result is that we have such quality information,” he added.
Because each animal’s ZIMS record remains attached to its unique GAN (Global Accession Number), those medical records stay with the animal no matter where it lives. For example, a female okapi born in the United States traveled to two zoos before becoming a key member of the Beauval population. It’s ZIMS records followed.
“I go to this example,” said Dr. Mulot, “because Ann (the okapi) had a history of many blood samples, tests, and notes, and we had just excellent information from each of the zoos that cared for her.”
Dr. Mulot is also EAZA’s Vet Advisor for the Koala Ex situ Programme (EEP), providing consultation and a second opinion when veterinarians need help with a medical issue. If he doesn’t know the answers, he helps to connect the veterinarian with a koala expert who does. ZIMS makes it easier to share relevant information between the veterinary teams, and to record notes for future reference.
“Throughout the zoo and wildlife refuge community we are treating for the KoRV, or Koala Retrovirus. There is very little we know about it and our veterinarians as well as scientists and biologists are working together to collect as much info as we can. We must determine what is the impact of the virus and each of its variants. For the moment, some variants are much less concerning than others. Some of the variants are in the genome and go from mom to joey while others are transmitted from outside sources. We are tracking these things closely, sharing discoveries,” said Dr. Mulot.
Managing collections with ZIMS for Husbandry
In all, 17 Beauval staff members use ZIMS to record and share husbandry, medical, and studbooks information. Together, they use ZIMS to maintain an updated register of all information on animals, including births, deaths, transfers, IDs, parents, rearing, enclosures, and more. ZIMS is also their tool for collection management, including pedigrees, available and wanted lists, medical reports, species holding. ZIMS is a source for finding studbook keepers, information on other institutions, and contacts.
Learn more about EAZA Biobank and Sample Storage.