A Global Information Network for Species Conservation
I.S.I.S. (International Species Information System) is a computer-based information system for wild animal species held in
captivity. The ISIS central database contains information on over 1.65 million zoological animals of nearly 15,000+taxa,
approximately 10,000 species held in 586 institutions in 72 countries on 6 continents. ISIS’ Animal Records Keeping System
(ARKS) is used for institutional animal records by its’ members. ISIS offers services of immediate use to zoological
institutions, and is building an accessible archive of the data needed for the longer term.
Basic biological information such as age, sex, parentage, place of birth, and circumstance of death is collected by ISIS and used
for many different kinds of reports and analyses of the status of captive populations. ISIS also serves as a center for cooperative
development of zoological software for in-facility use. Software development costs are therefore spread across a large number
of institutions - making professional software and professional-level support available to all participants at a reasonable cost.
Zoos need a global information network and information database to support sound, everyday collection management decisions
to help meet increasing conservation responsibilities. Natural habitats are fast disappearing or becoming untenable for wildlife,
as humans disturb most of planet Earth (only 3.7% of the land surface is in protected areas). This means that most zoological
populations must be self-sustaining, rather than dependent on wild-caught stock. Such self-sustaining status means that zoo
populations not only avoid being a burden on the wild, but can be an insurance policy for particular species - in case the
threatened wild population is lost. ISIS data indicates that 82% of new zoo mammals are now zoo-bred, along with 64% of
birds and a majority of reptile species.
Unfortunately, zoo populations of many species may be all that we have left. Already, the European bison
(Bison bonasus), Arabian oryx (Oryx leucoryx), and Mongolian wild horse
(Equus przewalski) have become extinct in the wild. Zoo populations
have been the source of animals successfully re-introduced back into their original habitat.
The last few California condors (Gymnogyps californianus) and Black-footed ferrets
(Musteles nigripes) were taken entirely into captivity because the wild populations were unable to survive. Re-introduction programs for these species are underway.
The Scimitar-horned oryx (Oryx dammah) may be extinct in the wild, and a re-introduction program is under development. In
numerous other cases, captive propagation in zoos and other facilities is being used to augment threatened wild populations
(Whooping crane (Grus americana), Mauritian pink pigeon (Columba
mayeri), Bali mynah (Leucopsar rothschildi), etc.
To be valuable for long-term conservation-oriented management, zoo and aquarium populations need good specimen records
assembled and available for analysis, on which genetic and demographic management can be based. To best allocate available
space among threatened species, one needs to know total captive holdings of all related taxa. ISIS has been designed to help
accomplish these goals, and is supporting coordinated captive conservation programs in several regions of the world. Assembly
of the needed database also offers services of immediate short-term value to captive managers.
ISIS members contributed to the creation of a central computerized database where over 1.65 million individual specimens are
registered. This archive includes pedigree details and population demographics for nearly 10,000 species. ISIS offers a
microcomputer software package for in-house records keeping. Called A.R.K.S. (Animal Records Keeping System), this PC-based
system is used by 99% of ISIS members. Facilities using ARKS have numerous powerful reports (based on their own records)
available anytime for their own use, and contribute their data to the pooled ISIS database conveniently, by mailing floppy disks or
Information on these species is available on the ISIS web site (http://www.isis.org). The ISIS database is provided to members on the
ISIS Specimen Reference DVD. Historical zoological datasets - or "studbooks" containing all of ISIS' zoological data for any
taxon, are also available as computer files in ISIS' SPARKS format from the ISIS Specimen Reference DVD. These are very powerful
beginnings for formal studbook assembly, or for updating an existing studbook. More web band services are in
The important "who" are the 586 member institutions and their staff. Other vital "whos" over ISIS’ history are the American Zoo and
Aquarium Association (AZA), the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians (AAZV), The Dutch Foundation for Research in
Zoological Parks, several individual institutions which have contributed substantially, the U.S. Institute of Museum Services, the
J.N. Pew Jr. Memorial Trust, the U. S. National Institutes of Health, U. S. National Science Foundation, and others who have provided
grant support to ISIS over the years.
ISIS itself is staffed by 12 full-time and additional part-time people who manage, operate and develop the system. ISIS' budget pays
their salaries and all other costs. ISIS raises one-quarter of its funds from non-zoological grant sources. This allows ISIS to continue to
offer its services substantially below costs.
ISIS has received the endorsements of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA), British Federation of Zoos, the World
Zoo and Aquarium Association (WAZA), and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's/Species Survival
Commission/Conservation Breeding Specialist Group (CBSG), the Biodiversity Conservation Information System (BCIS), the
European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), the Australasian Regional Association of Zoological Parks and Aquaria
(ARAZPA), and many other associations.
ISIS operates from offices on the site of the Minnesota Zoological Garden. ISIS pays office rent to offset use of zoo resources.
ISIS began in 1973 when two Minnesota residents, Drs. Ulysses Seal and Dale Makey, proposed to the AAZPA and AAZV that such a
system be developed. With seed money and endorsement from these organizations, development funding was raised from private
foundations and the U.S. Department of Interior.
The Minnesota Zoological Garden, then being built, offered to host the program. For 15 years, ISIS operated as a part of the Minnesota
Zoo (similar to the position of IZY at London). Since late 1989 ISIS has been incorporated as a non-profit entity, under an
international Board of Trustees elected by subscribing member institutions.
Fifty-one zoos in North America and Europe responded to the 1973 invitation to participate. Since then, the system has expanded at
better than one new participant facility per month to the present total of 586.
The number of live specimens entered into the system has also steadily expanded, and of course the total amount of information, which
includes ancestors, etc., has grown rapidly. ISIS has data on over 1.65 million specimens in total.
ISIS SERVICES SUMMARY
ISIS member facilities in good standing (data is current, and annual fee paid) receive all of the following:
Animal Management / Records Software:
ARKS 4; a module of CMS (Collection Management System) for (Windows 95/98/Me/NT/2000/XP) (Animal Records Keeping System). ARKS 4 is multihuman-language. This software supports records-keeping and collection
management for one facility, also making it very easy to contribute data to the ISIS central database.
MedARKS (DOS), supports veterinary medical records-keeping and collection management. In use by hundreds of zoos
REGASP (DOS), collection planning software distributed to ISIS members under license from ARAZPA. There is a
growing use for recording and sharing collection planning information.
SPARKS Studbook / Species Management (DOS) software supports studbook management and species analysis. In use by
hundreds of studbook keepers worldwide.
Technical support (e-mail, FAX, and phone) for ISIS PC software.
Pooled Animal Management Information:
ISIS Specimen Reference DVD. Information on over 1.65 million specimens of approximately 10,000 species held by over
586 animal holding facilities. Includes historical and pedigree data. Updated every 90 days.
ISIS "Species Holdings", who has what information covering over 637,000 living specimens held at over 586 institutions.
On the Internet at http://www.isis.org.
ISIS Reference Ranges for Physiological Values in Captive Wildlife CD-ROM. Clinical norms for blood chemistry and
hematology of exotic animal species. This product is produced annually.
ISIS / WAZA Studbook and Husbandry Manual CD-ROM. There are 787 regional and international studbooks,
husbandry manuals, related resources, and reference documents pertaining to captive animal data records and
Pooled Collection Planning. Information for REGASP- using zoos. Regional Association planning information on-screen
(if region uses REGASP-LINK). Also, direct access to plans from other collections allows you to contact
institutions to arrange placement or acquisition of specimens in advance.
Internet Discussion Forums: http://www.isis.org - used by registrars, veterinarians, veterinarian technicians, spanishlanguage
zoos, etc, for international information sharing and discussion.
The New ISIS Vision: (ISIS’ Board of Trustees, April 2003)
ISIS delivers and supports the world’s most current, comprehensive and reliable source of information on animals and their environments for zoos, aquariums and related organizations to serve institutional, regional and global animal management and conservation goals.
The New ISIS Mission: (ISIS’ Board of Trustees, April 2003)
It is the mission of ISIS to facilitate international collaboration in the collection and sharing of information on animals and their environments for zoos, aquariums and related organizations by
• Supporting, maintaining and ensuring the continuous development of comprehensive zoological software systems.
• Providing services that are essential for members and prospective members to manage the animals in their care.
• Serving as an independent, impartial body, which promotes the development of standards and practices that enhance the integrity and usefulness of data on animals and their environments.
• Obtaining the highest possible participation in data collection and sharing for zoos, aquariums and related organizations worldwide.
• Planning and managing the resources (human, financial and technological) needed to meet all of these goals.
ISIS values and beliefs: (ISIS Board of Trustees April 2003)
• We value the use of objective data to benefit conservation, science, animal welfare, education, and collection management.
• We believe that our mission can best be served by openly sharing our animal data.
• We acknowledge our responsibility to insure our animal data are accurate, complete, and up-to-date.
• We value integrity and honesty in the provision, analysis and interpretation of our animal data.
• We value continuous improvement of our management software through an open process.
• We believe that an inclusive approach to membership is important to the achievement of our mission.
• We value a diversity of management and conservation approaches as represented within our membership.
• We believe that global cooperation will help us to achieve our goals.