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Zoo News Blog

Registrar Confidential – The Digital Keepers You Need to Know

We are zoo registrars. Cue the blank stares and simple nods of appreciation while secretly thinking, “I have no idea what that is.” Registrars provide oversight for animal record-keeping protocols, records management, animal shipping, wildlife permit procurement, and related reporting requirements and legal compliance.

Meet the Registrars

joann on zoo groundsMy name is Joann Watson, your zoo registrar, and I’ve been in the registrar department at the Houston Zoo for 12 years. I have an M.A. in Museum Studies and started working at the Zoo soon after graduation. I became fascinated with the museum field in undergrad at LSU after working on an archeology dig but soon realized I would rather work with live rather than historic collections. In fact, the Zoo is so special to me that I was married on property! On sunny days, I love taking a break some days to stroll the view and interact with guests.

sheri posing with sea lionI am Sheri Bradley, the assistant registrar here at Houston Zoo. I have been at the Zoo for two years. I have an associate’s degree in Natural Resources-Zookeeping and a bachelor of arts in Leadership and Organizational Studies. I have always wanted to be a registrar because I love puzzles, problem solving, and paperwork! Before Houston, I started my career at Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. When I was in college, I learned about the registrar position and something really clicked for me. I am involved in our registrar association and love educating people about the fabulously nerdy aspects of our career!

Conservation Heroes
The data we curate is being used to save species in the wild by influencing policy and animals caught in the illegal wildlife trade. Today’s animal conservation efforts are collaborative processes, which are often linked in a lot of ways and require input from a wide variety of sources – all overseen by registrars! The information registrars collect, store, and analyze is often used by wildlife policy makers to influence new laws and policies to protect these amazing animals.

joann feeding a red panda

Digital Managers
sheri and joann in officeThe job of registrar has evolved past being record keepers. Zoo registrars manage institutional and global animal data by setting the standards of what records are recorded. Zoo Registrars organize and manage the animal records and database the same way a curator manages the animal collection. Records provide a source of information and data which zoos then use for husbandry, health, breeding, conservation, and collection planning decisions.

At the Houston Zoo, we use a database called the Zoological Information Management System (ZIMS) by Species 360. Through this system, we can record a wide range of data on all the animals at the Zoo from the elephants to the ants such as diet, behavior, training, as well as medical and veterinary records. The list of what we manage is endless.

All Knowing Registrars
joann with goat in officeWe analyze a lot of data. If there is ever a trivia contest on Zoo grounds, make sure you are not going up against a registrar. Our brains are filled with animal names and their unique identification numbers. We know what each animal had for breakfast and how much each animal weighs. We work with other departments at the Zoo like marketing and public relations by providing information such as the names of animals, answering guest questions about the oldest living animal at the Zoo, or if we have ever had a koala. We also provide information like statistics on how many zoos hold a certain species like Komodo dragons or how many Houston toads have been released into the wild because of our successful conservation program.

We train Zoo staff in animal records and we are a valuable resource for curators and keepers when entering information into an animal’s record. We teach them the best, most efficient way to enter their notes so they can dedicate more time to the care and training of these amazing animals. We also help them learn the new modules of the software so they can be assured that our animals’ statistics and information are included in the global network of records to help advance and improve conservation efforts across the world.

joann working on houston toads programP is for Permits
Did you know zoo registrars have to be knowledgeable of the law? Registrars monitor legislation to ensure the Houston Zoo is in compliance with wildlife laws. We work closely with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife, USDA, and CITES, just to name a few. We research each animal that comes and goes on Zoo grounds to determine if there are any state or federal permits required to hold and transport them.

The Houston Zoo registrar team wears many hats – data management, archivist, librarian, teacher, IT support, and government liaison, just to name a few. The registrar may not be the face of the Zoo, but it is one position that the Zoo could not operate without.

Disclaimer: All photos were taken before the COVID-19 pandemic.