Attwater Prairie Chicken db

Organization Information:

Organization Name:
Earth Pormise dba Fossil Rim Wildlife Center
City & State:
Glen Rose, 
Organization Website:
Organization's Mission Statement

“Fossil Rim Wildlife Center is dedicated to the conservation of species in peril, conducting scientific research, training of professionals, responsible management of natural resources, and public education. Through these activities, we provide a diversity of compelling learning experiences that inspire positive change in the way people think, feel and act towards nature”.

Submission Information

Impact Essay

As Fossil Rim Wildlife Center celebrates our quarter century anniversary we proudly look back at our wildlife conservation successes. However, our mission to conserve species in peril is an ever-increasing challenge. Recently Fossil Rim has developed a Microsoft Access database that has significantly enhanced our ability to achieve our conservation mission by increasing the effectiveness of one of our most important programs.

The Attwater’s prairie chicken (APC) is a grouse that historically ranged along the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast. Participation in the Attwater’s Prairie Chicken Federal Recovery Plan continues to be Fossil Rim’s major contribution to the conservation of native Texas species. Since the captive breeding program was initiated in 1992, Fossil Rim has played a leadership role by developing captive breeding techniques, housing well over half of the captive population, and producing the majority of the individuals released each year to the APC National Wildlife Refuge. Through collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the APC Recovery Team, research groups from Texas A&M University, the Fort Worth Zoo and the University of Georgia, and the other captive breeding institutions (Houston Zoo, Abilene Zoo, Caldwell Zoo, San Antonio Zoo, and Sea World San Antonio), Fossil Rim continues it’s long term commitment to the survival of one of America’s most endangered birds.

The Attwater’s prairie chicken’s story of decline is not an uncommon one. Through loss of costal prairie habitat, the wild population has declined over the last century from approximately one million birds to about 60 individuals. Only through continued release of captive reared chicks, has the population been able to maintain even these small numbers. In the past few years, major improvements in husbandry and significant milestones in the Recovery Program have been achieved. New breeding pens and a dedicated chick rearing facility at Fossil Rim have allowed for increased numbers of breeding pairs and chick production. The Houston Zoo has acquired space for new and additional breeding flights at NASA. Collaboration with the Fort Worth Zoo’s Nutrition Department has improved and standardized adult and chick diets across institutions. Researchers at Texas A&M University are working to produce a vaccine to protect against the detrimental virus that causes reticuloendotheliosis. With all of these advances working in concert, 2008 saw the largest number of chicks released since the Program’s inception.

Despite these achievements, there is always room for improvement. Enter Microsoft Access. Over the last 2 years, Fossil Rim has taken advantage of Microsoft’s generosity to create a database that computerizes and standardizes all data collection for the APC captive breeding program. We have greatly improved organization of information and utilization of data for retrospective analyses. Every year, Fossil Rim alone collects large amounts of information regarding APCs. For example, during the extremely busy chick season, we collect and process over 400 eggs produced from 24 breeding pairs. Each egg is measured and weighed at the time of collection and candled and weighed weekly during the incubation until hatch; for each egg, a minimum of 55 data points are recorded. Over 250 chicks are hatched, identified, monitored individually and weighed; a minimum of 60 data points for each chick, if there are no medical problems. A minimum of 20 weights are recorded for each bird in the first 3 weeks of life, in addition to data about when and what a chick first eats, when it first drinks, and whether it has health problems or growth problems. Individual medical treatments are recorded up to three times a day, if necessary. Conservatively, about 40,000 data points are recorded each chick season. Multiple people, including two full time Animal Care staff, three interns, two veterinarians, a vet tech and vet preceptors, all contribute to data collection. Before creation of APCdb, all of this information was recorded by hand. Historically, organization of the data did not occur until the end of the chick season, due to time constraints, usually in late July and August. Hand recorded information typically results in inconsistency, due to multiple recorders, delayed use of data, due to end of season computerization, and perhaps most importantly, a long term back log of paper records that results in inaccessibility of historical data.


Fossil Rim’s Animal Care and Health Departments have collaborated with our Information Technology department to design the current database program. The immediate and tangible improvements that our Access APCdb has allowed us to achieve are as follows:

1) Improved collection of data, that is consistent, quicker and centrally located.

2) Increased accessibility to data, both during the season (in a virtually instantaneous manner), and post-season for retrospective analyses from year to year.

Additionally, the database has the potential to standardize, organize and provide ease of access to data collected at all captive breeding facilities. Information would easily flow between institutions. Currently, information regarding husbandry, season summaries, or medical issues is shared informally and in several meetings during the year when members from all the captive breeding facilities gather. As is the case with Fossil Rim’s data, organization of the entire captive breeding program’s information would have a substantially positive impact on the Recovery Program. For example, veterinarians could access the entire database to follow trends in mortality data, or animal care staff could look at weight trends across years, or identify the most successful incubator parameters. With the computerized data these inquiries would take minutes versus the days or weeks currently required to compile paper records. Ultimately, we would like to see this project achieve the following additional objectives:

1) Multi-institutional standardization of data collection

2) Increased accessibility to data across institutions for extensive program wide analyses.

In summary, Microsoft technologies have allowed us to streamline collection, organization and access to data at the largest captive breeding facility for the endangered Attwater’s prairie chicken. This data collection system allows for intensive, in depth analyses, and facilitates retrospective and future research projects. As we look forward from here, Fossil Rim envisions the expansion of this database to all the breeding institutions. Ultimately, and perhaps most importantly, the database will include birds once they are released into the wild. A database that follows an individual from hatch to release and then captures information on success in the wild, is extremely powerful in both assessing and improving captive release programs.

Submission Category
Transformations to Maximize Impact
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Supporting Work Files