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How do you accurately count nearly 900 animals?

Thursday 29th December 2016

This is the rather daunting task that Africa Alive! keepers face at the end of 2016.

Yes, it’s that time of year where our zoo keepers and animal records keeper are preparing to count the many species within their care.

Keepers aren’t just expected to clean out, feed and provide enrichment for a wide variety of animals from snails to rhinos, they also record information about the movements of animals between zoo collections and their health and behaviour. 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 black and white ruffed lemur here at Africa Alive! and the Ruppell’s griffon vulture at our sister park Banham Zoo. 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 over 100 giant land snails at Africa Alive! and around 1,000 Madagascar hissing cockroaches at Banham Zoo. This involves taking them out of their tank and then painstakingly counting them back in, one at a time.

Some notable new arrivals this year have been…

Africa Alive!:

  • Black lemur born in May. Named Myrtle.
  • Black and white ruffed lemur twin girls born in May named Aloka and Casper. This species is critically endangered in the wild.
  • Chapman’s zebra born in July named Cumin.
  • One male and two female golden-bellied mangabeys arrived. This is a new species at the park.
  • Golden-bellied mangabey born in November named Nugget.


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