Zoo Miami saves endangered species with the help of ActivPanel

teacher teaching students using an interactive whiteboard

Published: March 28th, 2022

Zoo Miami, the fifth largest zoo in the United States, is situated in a section of Florida’s native pine rockland. This savanna-like habitat coupled with the region’s subtropical climate creates an ideal environment for the zoo’s 3,000-plus animals from Australia, Africa, Asia, and the Americas. The collection represents 500 species, a quarter of which are endangered or critically endangered.

The small team at the zoo’s onsite animal hospital— four vets, two technicians, four hospital zookeepers, and a manager—not only provides routine care but also helps preserve species in peril. It’s a lot to manage in a 40-year-old facility, where archaic pen-and-paper systems have been the norm. While plans for a new state-of-the-art hospital are underway, the team was in dire need of a technology helping hand right away.

Wild days demand flexibility

Days at the hospital are carefully scheduled, but animals don’t always do the expected. Plans pivot when a pregnant giraffe goes into labor or an animal eats something it shouldn’t have, like a pacifier or sunglasses that are accidentally dropped into an exhibit. And then, there are complex procedures for non-routine medical needs, like the series of treatments Barney, a 28-year-old gorilla, required for pneumonia and the surgery baby pygmy hippo, Aubergine, required to correct his cleft palate. “The days are wild out there,” said Samantha Pencar, Zoo Miami Foundation board member and former Zoo Miami zookeeper.

The zoo also welcomes veterinary and medical specialists who come from around the country to provide their expertise on individual species or surgical procedures. The master schedule that organized it all was essentially a desk calendar. “The team was handwriting all the procedures, scheduling all the technicians and the externships, everything,” explained Pencar. “The animal hospital desperately needed a technology upgrade.”

Internal communication was often a big challenge. The team kept the animals’ charts on paper, juggling notes from multiple caretakers for each animal. To intake new animals, an elaborate Excel sheet was recreated by hand on a dry erase board. The big visual was needed so the team could track medical and quarantine requirements before an animal could be placed in the zoo.

In addition, the vet team regularly collaborates with other zoos, supports a conservation and research team, and provides educational programs. Due to the lack of technology, there wasn’t a way for the team to easily share all this important work and information.

An interactive panel solves the no-tech bottleneck

The solution to the zoo’s problems came out of a fortuitous connection. Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS), which uses Promethean products in all its schools, has a biology-focused magnet program at the zoo. On a site visit to the zoo classroom, Olema Herrera, M-DCPS instructional technology supervisor was given a tour that included a stop at the animal hospital. “I saw how everything worked in terms of scheduling, which was all on this whiteboard,” said Herrera. “It was really an outdated use of displaying information for the surgeons and for everybody who’s in there.” Knowing first-hand how effective interactive panels are at organizing and communicating information, she immediately saw the solution. The hospital needed an ActivPanel.

Herrera connected Pencar with Melissa Luck, the Promethean M-DCPS district education consultant, and the wheels were set in motion. Through a special donation, an ActivPanel was installed in the hospital. Immediately after, Luck joined Pencar and the veterinary staff for a professional development session to get everyone up and running with their new interactive display. The training was tailored to the team’s unique needs and problems. “They were telling us what their day-to-day is like, which helped us to think about other ways that we could use the panel,” said Luck.

Since then, the panel has dramatically changed the hospital’s workflow. Vets, techs, and staff use it to prepare for surgeries that require intense teamwork between anesthesiologists, surgeons, technicians, and out-of-town specialists. The split screen allows each provider to simultaneously take notes that impact their individual roles, plan the timing of procedures, and compile it all into a single chart. “There are so many technicians or veterinarians monitoring different aspects of the animal, whether it’s respiration, anesthesia, medication administration,” said Pencar. “All of the information is now in one visible place. Ultimately, it has streamlined their communication.”

The team also uses the timer as a clock and stopwatch. “It’s something large so you could time breathing, you could time heart rate, you could time administration of medication,” explained Pencar. “Really crucial parts of their operation are made simple and more effective.” Another task made easier is the intake and outtake of animals. Instead of using the dry erase board system, staff can just share that file on the ActivPanel.

“All of the information is now in one visible place. Ultimately, it has streamlined their communication.”

Samantha Pencar

Shining a light on important veterinary work

One unexpected benefit of the panel was its ability to let the veterinary team highlight its work. While most zoo visitors never see what happens behind the scenes, the animal hospital is a regular stop on special tours for prospective donors, corporate partners, future board directors, and community leaders who can have a transformational impact on the zoo Previously, the team didn’t have much to visually show guests. Now they can share slide shows of pictures and videos.

“They save animals lives all the time, including exotic animals that are critically endangered. It’s nice for them to have a place to highlight that work,” said Pencar. “The ability with the panel to show all of the things that they’ve done in the past as people come visit is a point of pride for that team.”

Seeing new possibilities for the future through tech

“This was the first step towards integrating technology into the zoo,” said Pencar. Now the hospital’s staff members are envisioning ways the panel can help them have a bigger impact. In addition to treatment rooms, a laboratory, and a pharmacy, the new hospital will have educational space for K-12 and higher-ed students, including Ph.D. candidates. “The panel provides an opportunity to become an advocate for all of the work that we’re doing through educational platforms,” said Pencar.

Pencar also anticipates easier collaboration with other zoos, the potential to livestream surgeries, and share their work more widely. “I think the possibilities are endless,” she said. As for the veterinary team? “They love the panel, they love it. They’re so excited to continue to learn more about how to use it.”

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