When you visit the Zoo, it is very easy to identify a member of our staff. The Houston Zoo employees (and volunteers!) make ourselves as visible as possible so that guests can recognize us. This allows us to be accessible to our wonderful guests, and provide the best experience possible.
What you may not know is that behind the scenes, we have many employees and volunteers who work extremely hard to keep the Zoo operating at such a high level. Recently, I was lucky enough to spend some time with Tricia, who is the Registrar here at the Houston Zoo.
I think there are some who might have some misconceptions about what a registrar does. Could you clear up that confusion for us?
Being a Registrar is not just about “pushing papers.” There are a myriad of responsibilities that all directly relate back into maintaining the highest standards in data quality and recordkeeping for our animal collection.
This certainly seems like a pretty rare position. How many Zoo registrars are there outside of the Houston Zoo?
There are 168 as of June 2012 (professional and associate members)
With all of the responsibilities associated with your position, is there one area that you spend the most time on?
We read and edit twelve to thirteen Keeper Daily Reports(DRs), which takes up the majority of our day. We want to enter as much information from the DRs into our database called Animal Records Keeping System(ARKS) so that the staff will be able utilize it to check trends in the health and well-being of our animal collection. A close second is the preparing of the animal transaction proposals. When Curators turn the animal transaction proposals in for approval by our head veterinarian and VP, we have to check and review the local, state and federal websites to ensure that the Houston Zoo is legally compliant when we are sending and receiving animals.
That sounds pretty extensive! What sort of experience must you have to do this sort of work?
I think it is very important to have a strong and varied animal background. I received my Bachelor of Science from Cornell University with a degree in Animal Science in 1994. I worked as a zookeeper for 4 years at the Bronx Zoo and 5 years at Disney’s Animal Kingdom as an opening team cast member. When a new position was created for Assistant Registrar (I was the first!) at Disney in 2003, I knew that was a job I would also enjoy since I liked doing the editing and recordkeeping of our hoofstock and waterfowl collection at the time. To me, actually working with animals gave me a much better understanding of how to manage their records. I worked mostly with mammals, so when I arrived at Houston Zoo, it was a great opportunity to learn even more since the Birds and Herpetology collection here are quite large.
What is your favorite part of being a registrar at the Houston Zoo?
I learn so much when I get to travel to the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) and ZRA (Zoological Registrars Association) conferences. The ability to network with colleagues really helps me to learn more and keep up with the changing trends in the zoo and aquarium industry. Presentations given at the conferences provide valuable information on U.S. Fish and Wildlife federal permit regulations, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) federal permit regulations, electronic records management, records retention, disaster preparedness, accreditation, and USDA updates. ZIMS (Zoological Information Management System) is also being discussed continuously since it is the web-based real-time global database system that will be replacing ARKS at some future date. I am extremely fortunate that Houston Zoo has allowed my Assistant Registrar Joann Thomas-Watson and I the opportunity to travel so that we can take what we have learned at the conferences and apply it directly to our records management here.
It sounds like you have a lot of stories. Anything interesting that you want to share?
A very important day at the zoo for me personally was October 14, 2010. I had been working on getting the permit paperwork prepped for our Southern white rhinoceros shipment since 2007!! There were so many different parameters that had to be taken into account when receiving CITES II animals internationally. It involved a lot of coordination with the broker, the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) agency at Bush Intercontinental Airport, the customs office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, our facilities and commissary staff; this list is by no means exhaustive. It was pretty amazing to actually witness the plane landing with our “precious cargo” and getting to be involved with all the logistics of the shipment from 6 AM to 9:45 PM.
I am a member of a group called Hippolotofus (website is hippos.com). We are a group of people (~1100 members) who just love hippos and travel all over the U.S. to just look at hippos in zoos/aquariums and share stories of our hippo collection. Currently I have about 450 hippos and I started collecting in 1998. Hippos are my favorite animal, and I had the distinct pleasure of working with them for 5 years.
My other obsession? For those who have seen the Registrar office, it is adorned with twilight paraphernalia!! Audiobooks, books, posters, jewelry, magnets, stickers, keychains, buttons, figurines, you name it we got it!! If anyone needs to know any trivia about the twilight series, please feel free to stop by. Joann and I are experts on it!! I hope to one day meet Stephenie Meyer (author of the twilight books) and have her sign the gazillion items in our collection
A big thank you to Tricia for spending time with me. Be on the lookout for more staff interviews!