23/01/2019

Bristol Zoo Gardens’ great animal count

Staff at Bristol Zoo Gardens have been busy – counting animals.

They carry out regular checks every few months but each January they conduct a complete survey.

That means counting every animal from fish to meerkats. There are thousands of animals altogether so staff set aside two days to complete the painstaking count.

They include almost 300 mammals, more than 360 reptiles and amphibians, around 500 birds and thousands of invertebrates and fish.

It involves some keepers standing carefully checking each species and noting them down. But others face a bigger challenge. They have to climb into dry suits, put on their diving equipment and get into giant aquarium tanks to count the fish.

Olivia Edgar, aquarium curator, said: “Some fish will swim to the bottom of tanks and others will hide in crevices, so the only way to count them is to get in with them.

“We regularly go into the tanks so our fish are generally quite used to us. But we are still very careful and keep our movements to a minimum to make sure the fish are comfortable with us being around.” 

Altogether there are more than 3,000 fish and invertebrates in the Zoo’s tanks and ponds.

Including Olivia, the Zoo has five qualified divers who take it in turns to go into the giant tanks. 

The Zoo has a total of 21 tanks on display to the public, containing a wide variety of fish that include a paddle-fish which has lived at the Zoo since 1985 and a stingray which is more than 15 years old.

Staff also have to count the fish in 13 tanks away from the public where fish are bred or kept in quarantine, as well as in lakes and ponds across the Zoo.

Olivia said: “We have an extensive database of all our animals but these surveys are vitally important so we can keep our figures up to date.”

The figures from the census will be submitted to the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA), the national professional body offering advice and guidance on all aspects of zoo management.

From a conservation perspective, knowing how many of each species are in captivity enables studbook keepers to work out which zoos have individuals that could take part in breeding programmes.

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