The Next Generation in Electronic Medical Record Keeping: The Zoological Information Management System
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2003
Robert A. Cook1, VMD, MPA; Sue DuBois2, MS, MBA, PMP
1Wildlife Health Sciences, Wildlife Conservation Society, Bronx, NY, USA; 1Animal Programs, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA


The Medical Animal Record Keeping System (MedARKS) was created in 1986 by Dr. Andrew Teare and later supported by the International Species Information System (ISIS). It has served the zoo veterinary medical community well for many years but is not adaptable to advances in software technology. The AAZV created an ad hoc Electronic Medical Records Committee to begin to address these concerns. At the same time, similar constraints were identified in the ARKS software used by registrars and animal managers of zoological collections. The American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZAA) first created a Strategic Software Taskforce in 2000 to assess the status of current data management practices and determine the feasibility of creating a new system. In 2001, the AZA created the Animal Data Information System Committee (ADISC) and hired a technology consultant, the Inteq Group, to begin the initial planning for a new global animal information system for both zoos and aquariums. Representatives of AAZV and the zoo and aquarium veterinary community were invited to participate with a broadly representative group in the initial scope and design phases of a new Zoological Information Management System (ZIMS).

During Phase I (July 2001 to March 2002) of the ZIMS Project, ADISC, with the assistance of the Inteq Group and from a series of stakeholder workshops, a number of products were produced including a project mission and charter, a technology assessment, a high-level plan and estimate, and a conceptual data model (CDM). The ZIMS project mission is to develop, deploy, and maintain a comprehensive information system to support a wide range of people and activities associated with the management and care of animals in zoological (aquariums and zoos) institutions and the zoological community. The charter defines stakeholders, risks, constraints, the technologic environment, and potential deployment scenarios. ZIMS Project deliverables and updates are posted at (VIN editor: link was not accessible as of 2/8/2021.

The CDM of Phase I, produced after four design workshops attended by a representative group of zoo and aquarium professionals, helps to define the scope of the proposed system by documenting the many diverse data requirements. It models over 350 entities identified as desirable for information collection and storage (animals, people, places, events, and the relationships between them), all of them necessary to support the high-level processes of inventory, veterinary, husbandry, and management.

Phase II of the project (July 2002 to Dec 2002) included a second round of workshops that involved both national and international participants from six global regions. The scope was refined to focus on the core and veterinary needs, and a request for proposals to develop a technical design and architecture. A technology survey was distributed to the potential user base: 230 surveys were distributed with 121 respondents. The preliminary results revealed that 95% (115/121) of the responding institutions have internet access, and 63% (76/121) stated that they have or will have broadband connections within 18–24 months.

Phase III of the project began in early 2003 and entails documenting and analyzing at a much greater level of detail, the business processes, data, and data standards that the system must support. Prototyping, design, and development will continue into 2004 and 2005 with implementation planned for late 2005–early 2006.

ZIMS is being designed to support all the information that is in the current ISIS software (ARKS, MedARKS) plus a great deal more. A plan is underway to review the quality and content of existing data so that the historic value can be retained in the conversion to a new system. The goal is to develop an integrated, scalable, and extensible database system that is accessible via the worldwide web. The database and application will support the development of new information technologies such as handheld data collection devices and image capture. The application will be seamless across business needs so that veterinarians can easily navigate different modules such as inventory, keeper reports, or environmental monitoring in addition to veterinary specific data. End-users will be able to set up their preferences for which modules they access most frequently. The new system will have better security features built into control access. The core, centralized database architecture will provide the foundation for institutions to create add-on specialized applications to enhance productivity at their particular facilities. The web technology will also facilitate remote, 24/7 technical support. The special data requirements of aquatic organisms and groups have been addressed to support environmental variables and taxonomic challenges.

In recognition of the need for an infrastructure to support both the ongoing ZIMS Project and ensure the long-term sustainability of the system as it goes online, several organizations have been working towards building the capacity, resources, and governance that will be necessary. A memorandum of understanding was signed between AZA and ISIS to facilitate a partnership for fundraising and technical support. The International Animal Data Information Systems Committee (IADISC) was formed to ensure global participation and representation from the user community. ISIS has undertaken a significant organizational restructuring in order to take on the management of the project and be staffed for future support. The initial core and veterinary modules of ZIMS are forecast to cost approximately ten million dollars to develop. A capital campaign was initiated to raise funds from zoological institutions in several regions and from the corporate sector. Over one hundred and seventy-five million dollars has been committed by AZA member zoos to date, and major grant-writing and fundraising efforts are underway to solicit funding from government and donor groups. It is anticipated that the international community represented in IADISC will also put forth a financial commitment to the product.


Speaker Information
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Robert A. Cook, VMD, MPA
Wildlife Health Sciences
Wildlife Conservation Society
Bronx, NY, USA

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