In 1984, twelve zoo registrars and animal records keepers met for a workshop at the Brookfield Zoo. Leading up to and during that meeting, the foundation for the Zoological Registrars Association (ZRA) was established. The annual workshops originally began very informally as a platform to assure that once a year the registrars and records keepers would come together and share both their unique and common problems and in some cases, their solutions. One of the original long-term goals was to establish the function of Registrar, which was very uncommon in zoos and aquariums, as a supported professional position.
Although never official, very early in its existence the participants were referred to as the Registrars' Group. As the membership of the Group grew, it elected its first Chairman in 1990. By 1992, members of the Registrar's Group had produced the publication Animal Records-Keeping. This manual provided guidance in animal record keeping and the collection and maintenance of data pertaining to live animal collections. The manual was also an early attempt at standardization of animal records and related processes. The manual was offered to all American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums (AAZPA, now known as AZA) institutions. It also found its way into a number of European and Australian zoos and aquariums.
In 1993, the Group established the Marvin Jones Award of Excellence to recognize meritorious achievements, specifically in the area of animal record keeping. Eight Marvin Jones Awards of Excellence have been awarded to eligible members.
During the 1994 annual conference, the Group adopted its first bylaws, and in 1998 received its Status as a 501 c (3) not-for-profit organization. This was the official founding of the current association known as the Zoo Registrars Association (ZRA). Later, members voted to change the name of the organization to the Zoological Registrars Association in response to the increased involvement of aquariums.
During the 1990s, there was a major push by zoos and aquariums worldwide to improve animal records for the purpose of supporting the captive management of animals and conservation programs. ZRA was ideally suited to take advantage of this event and has been in the forefront of creating and supporting standards for animal records since then. In 1998, Standards for Data Entry and Maintenance of North American Zoo and Aquarium Animal Records Databases was published by the Lincoln Park Zoo. ZRA members both edited and heavily contributed to this publication. "The Standards for Data Entry" provided a systematic approach to animal record keeping through the use of the Animal Records Keeping System (ARKS) software produced by the International Species Information System (ISIS).
In early 1996, ZRA proposed a new course for the AZA Management School. Following approval, the first Institutional Record Keeping (IRK) course began in 1998, and continues today as part of the AZA Professional Training School curriculum. The IRK course has always been taught by ZRA members, and one member has served on the AZA Board of Regents. IRK is now a required course for George Mason University students in their Master's Degree Program in Zoo Leadership.
The first ZRA five-year Strategic Plan was adopted in 2002. During the 2007 Annual Conference, the membership approved its successor, the 2007-2011 Strategic Plan and an accompanying revision of the Association's bylaws. The bylaws revision represented a significant realignment of the organization's governance structure that more closely represented current standards in association management and provided for the implementation of the strategic direction set forth by the membership.
The 2007-2011 Strategic Plan provided for important initiatives that include but were not limited to the Association's first Code of Professional Ethics; a new web site; a program for leadership succession, training and development; enhanced professional development opportunities; and a comprehensive membership growth campaign.
Enhanced leadership and member recognition was achieved through the implementation of a more formal recognition ceremony at the Annual Conference, providing additional service awards for board members and committee leaders, and the development of a second outstanding achievement award. The Judith Block Professional Excellence Award was established to recognize those members with long-standing tenure who have consistently demonstrated the willingness to provide for the professional development and mentorship of other members.
Over the years, ZRA membership has included several representatives from both Europe and Australia, and many of its members serve as studbook keepers, coordinators for AZA's Species Survival Plans, Taxon Advisory Groups (TAGs), Scientific Advisory Groups (SAGs), and have cooperated or assisted with the development of records and conservation software programs. One thing that has remained constant through the years is ZRA's close working relationship with the ISIS organization.
More recently, ZRA members have been instrumental in the development of the Zoological Information Management System (ZIMS), the latest animal records management web-based software, produced by ISIS. ZRA members represent a significant portion of the alpha and beta testers required before the final program can be deployed to over 700 zoos and aquariums worldwide. As ZRA implements its current Strategic Plan, and the changes associated with its new governance structure, it is positioned to be an increasingly valuable asset to the zoological industry, and its constituents, and to provide cutting-edge services, leadership development and educational opportunities to its growing membership. ZRA will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2009.