Technology and Animal Welfare
Professionals in the animal field constantly record data, be it wildlife management, rescue and rehabilitation, research or zoological care. The sheer volume and detail of the data we collect is at times, well…a bit ridiculous. That’s a good thing.
Although local and federal governments require certain records, in most cases our top professional organizations go far afield of minimum requirements. We obsess over data collection for a number of reasons:
Recording metrics on our daily interactions sharpens our focus and helps improve consistency among personnel.
Certain data trends can only be recognized by routine tracking and automated feedback such as body weights, temperatures, subtle trend changes and nutritional information to name but a few.
Other types of data collection demand routine passive observation, a critical component in being proactive about animal welfare.
Perhaps most important is the feedback all this varied data provides (or can provide).
OERCA has been in constant daily operation serving multiple types of organizations in seven countries and four different languages since June 2012, just over 4.5 years now. Despite the fact that our principles have been on the front-lines in wildlife and zoological management for decades prior, we have learned some amazing things about record keeping in the relatively short time OERCA has been in operation.
Not unlike the phenomena of data mining constantly emerging from the Internet, we are frequently enthused when we discover relationships between data we never imagined had any relevance. This is a naturally occurring collateral benefit of a relational data system, where every type of fact or figure is contained within the same platform; meaning that any two or more points of information can easily be compared and analyzed.
We’ve also learned that the process of collecting data and the accuracy of that information has a direct and inverse relationship. The more difficult it is to enter data, the less timely and less accurate it becomes. Conversely, the easier it becomes to record data, the more timely and accurate. “Easy” means not just a user-friendly interface, but equally as important are mobility and hardware compatibility…any device, anywhere and anytime.
There is one constant throughout the animal professional field; we never stop moving. Providing for animals that depend on us is a never-ending uphill run. Sitting down at a computer is not where we need (or want) to spend valuable time.
Entering data in an electronic system is vital to supporting good animal welfare practices. It’s nearly impossible to extract meaningful information from paper. Most paper records are difficult to read at best and often get stuffed into a dusty file cabinet hidden away in the dark recesses of seldom used storage rooms. Hands down, the “ante” to get in the animal welfare game is electronic. But is that enough? Just entering and storing information doesn’t mean the data being collected is doing anything for you. This is another critical lesson we’ve learned at OERCA.
Being "in the trenches" ourselves, we demanded a system that would “talk” to us, providing the information we wanted without having to dig for it. What we didn’t fully realize is just how vital this aspect would become. Once again, it’s all about time management and "timely" information.
As a co-founder and managing partner at OERCA, one aspect of my job is to ensure everything is operating smoothly. In that vein I receive daily activity logs from all over the world. This practice has revealed fascinating knowledge I never anticipated, one in particular of great impact.
In recent years anti-zoo radicals have criminalized the human-animal bond. So much so that existing and proposed legislation places limits on the time an animal can interact with a person. Yet the data we see in OERCA shows us clearly that as median interaction times drop, social discord and health-related problems increase. The opposite is also true, as median interaction times remain high, there is less prevalence of social displacement and health related issues. Real data (a.k.a. "facts") shows us that popular assumptions about human interaction causing negative stress is incorrect. This is but one simple example of how data feedback is crucial to understanding and providing optimal care.
Today, OERCA is far from an electronic records warehouse. It is a dynamic, bustling grand central station of activity. An extensive communications system that sends hundreds of thousands of automated notices, summaries and alerts every year. It monitors subtle trends over extensive intervals that we can’t detect with the naked eye or idle observation. In an emergency, it can reach 50 or more people instantly and simultaneously.
What’s exciting is its only just the beginning. We love technology and we love animals. Constant feedback from diverse client organizations and a healthy obsession for what’s next combine to create some truly advanced tools...and there's so much more yet to come. We’re fortunate to live on the precipice of a new era, one that will surely celebrate the intricate and causal relationship between technology and good #animalwelfare.