Zoo News Digest
I think I must have been blogging since before the word blog was invented. I don't actually recollect the word 'blog' being used when I started writing about zoos. What I was doing was producing a regular news journal.
Some years ago in the early days of the internet I stumbled across one of the early chat sites. It was called Zoo Chat (no relation to the present group which shares the same name) and I got to know zoo staff from around the world from there. There were not many, they were all English speaking and nearly all based in the US, Canada. UK and Australia. There cannot have been much more than a couple of dozen chat group members all in all. We got to know each pretty well and most conversations were just idle chatter about nothing in particular. The common interest was zoos, but funnily enough they did not figure too highly in conversation.
There were not too many newspapers online back then but I checked them daily for news of zoos. It was all personal interest really. Sometimes I would discuss stories I had read with staff at work. Zoo staff are always interested in what is going on in other zoos.
At the time I was using an email programme called Pegasus. It had several very clever features which at the time, its competitors did not. One of these was the ability to produce mailing lists.
One week I collected together the links to all the zoo related stories I had read on the internet and put them together in an email. To this I added a little of information on what had been going on in my life and commented on some of the zoo news stories. This was my e-zine or 'Blog'. I sent this out to around 15 of my zoo friends who I had met on the internet. I seem to have hit on a need because they forwarded it to their friends who did likewise and within a couple of weeks the subscriber list had reached 150. Membership growth was slow. I never advertised or promoted and comparatively few zoo staff had access to computers let alone the internet.
I continued religiously with what I was doing and managed to get at least one edition of 'ZooNews Digest' out every week. Of course it was not called that back then but the name came in time. What I distinctly tried not to do was to compete with the terrestrial zoo magazines or other services online. I didn't because at the time what I was doing was unique.
I foresaw a need for something to help zoo staff to access information quickly and set up a related group which I called 'Zoo Biology' which is my main interest. Zoo Biology really encompasses everything of what zoos are about. The Zoo Biology group membership was restricted to professional zoo staff from the beginning and with very few exceptions remains so. Zoo Biology has been instrumental in getting needed information quickly from someone who knows. There are a lot of animals in zoos who owe their survival to Zoo Biology. The Zoo Biology archives are rich in information.
I was both flattered and honoured to have had ZooNews Digest and Zoo Biology given a special award for Zoo Education by the UK/Eire Zoo Federation (which is now BIAZA). No similar award had ever been given to anyone on the 'outside' before.
Membership of both ZooNews Digest and Zoo Biology grew slowly, almost on a daily basis. It recieved mentions in various terrestrial journals which caused spurts. Just after each Christmas or holiday period when people bought computers then membership grew. As computers dropped in price there was growth too. It was slow though.
The Zoo industry is an odd one, especially within the UK and to a degree elsewhere. Mainly keeping staff are young. They come to work doing something they love to do for what is, comparatively speaking, quite low wages. They stick it out for a few years but unless they have been promoted, upgraded or have recieved some special benefit like housing then they will leave. They don't leave because they don't like the work but because they fall in love. They realise that if they are going to realistically contribute to the family purse then they need to get a job that pays. Some are lucky of course, their partner works in another field and recieves a good income and is prepared to be the main earner.
Some of those who leave will remain as ZooNews Digest subscribers, keeping in touch, just in case. Others want to forget. They loved the work and don't want to be reminded of what they are missing and so they unsubscribe.
There are other imitators of ZooNews Digest out there now who have attempted to carve their own niche and are succeeding slowly.
Zoo Biology now has many competitors where there were none before. These are all specialist groups and I really believe they are a useful thing. What is special about Zoo Biology however is that it ranges over broad expertise. The majority of Zoo Biology subscribers have been working in zoos for more than ten years and many of them for ten, twenty, thirty and forty years. During their employment they will have worked with a variety of species and so have multi expertise and knowledge. Sometimes this can be as diverse as reptiles, primates and sealions. Zoo Biology gathers together thousands of years of knowledge in one place. Questions are usually answered within a couple of hours. Some answer privately which I always think is rather a pity because then the answers are not archived. The important thing is though that the answers are given.
Today ZooNews Digest and Zoo Biology continue to be the biggest groups of their type and reach more people in more zoos, in more countries more often than any other similar publications.
The ZooNews Digest moved into a blog format as Zoo News Digest though the weekly mail out still continues. The notes, opinions and critiques are still there but with less information on my personal life. This really has had to be so as the Digest increased in length it split into two halves with one being called the Travel Journal. The Travel Journal in its turn has evolved into 'The Itinerant ZooKeeper'.
The past Travel Journals are still available on the internet in the ZooNews Digest archives,
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