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What is the mission of Species Survival Plans?
The mission of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA's) Species Survival Plan program is to help ensure the survival of selected wildlife species.
The mission will be implemented using a combination of the following strategies:
Organize scientifically-controlled managed breeding programs for selected wildlife as a hedge against extinction
Cooperate with other institutions and agencies to ensure integrated conservation strategies
Increase public awareness of wildlife conservation issues, including development and implementation of education strategies at AZA-member institutions and in the field
Conduct basic and applied research to contribute to our knowledge of various species
Train wildlife and zoo professionals
Develop and test various technologies relevant to field conservation
Reintroduce captive-bred wildlife into restored or secure habitat as appropriate and necessary.
What is an SSP?
The Species Survival Plan program began in 1981 as a cooperative population management and conservation program for selected species in zoos and aquariums in North America. Each SSP manages the breeding of a species in order to maintain a healthy and self-sustaining population that is both genetically diverse and demographically stable.
Beyond this, SSPs participate in a variety of other cooperative conservation activities, such as research, public education, reintroduction and field projects. Currently, 108 SSPs covering 159 individual species are administered by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, whose membership includes accredited zoos and aquariums throughout North America.
How are species selected?
A species must satisfy a number of criteria to be selected for an SSP. Most SSP species are endangered or threatened in the wild, and have the interest of qualified professionals with time to dedicate toward their conservation. Also, SSP species are often "flagship species," well-known animals that arouse strong feelings in the public for their preservation and the protection of their habitat. Examples of "flagship species" include the giant panda, California condor, and lowland gorilla.
New SSPs are approved by the appropriate Taxon Advisory Group (TAG), which manages conservation programs for related groups of species (apes, raptors, freshwater fish, etc.) or by the AZA Wildlife Conservation and Management Committee (WCMC).
How are SSPs administered?
Each SSP has a qualified species coordinator who is responsible for managing day-to-day activities. Management committees composed of elected experts assist the coordinator with the conservation efforts for the particular species, including population management, research, education, and reintroduction. In addition, each institution holding an SSP animal has a representative who attends SSP meetings and coordinates relevant SSP activities at their institution.
The overall program is administered by the AZA Conservation and Science Department in Silver Spring, MD, in consultation with the WCMC. Non-member institutions may participate in SSPs, but must adhere to AZA's Code of Professional Ethics and have appropriate facilities and expertise to care for the animals.
What is an SSP Master Plan?
An SSP master plan outlines the goals for the population. It designs the "family tree" of a particular managed population in order to achieve maximum genetic diversity and demographic stability. Breeding and other management recommendations are made for each animal with consideration given to the logistics and feasibility of transfers between institutions, as well as maintenance of natural social groupings. Often, master plans include recommendations not to breed animals, so as to avoid having the population outgrow the available holding space.
What is a studbook?
Studbooks are fundamental to the successful operation of SSPs, as each contains the vital records of an entire managed population of a species, including births, deaths, transfers and family lineage.
With appropriate analysis, a studbook enables the species coordinator and management group to develop a master plan containing sound breeding recommendations based on genetics, demographics and the species' biology. Data for each studbook is compiled and constantly updated by a studbook keeper who has knowledge of the species and time to assist in its conservation.
What is a husbandry manual?
SSPs also develop husbandry manuals that set guidelines based on the best current scientific knowledge for the diet and care of the species in captivity. With standardized practices, it is easier to detect potential health and husbandry problems. In addition, because the guidelines provide consistency among participating institutions, it is also easier to transfer animals between institutions when necessary.
What are reintroductions?
Several SSPs include reintroduction projects, although reintroduction of animals to the wild is not the goal of every SSP. For native species, SSPs are often linked to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Endangered Species Recovery Plans.
While managed breeding for reintroduction is not a panacea for the endangered species problem, it is sometimes the only option for reestablishing healthy wild populations. Reintroduction projects have been successful in returning certain species to their natural places in the ecosystem. Several species, such as black-footed ferrets, California condors, and red wolves, have been brought back from the brink of extinction through successful managed breeding programs.
SSPs for which reintroduction is not appropriate have a positive impact on assisting the wild population through fund-raising to support field projects and habitat protection, development of new technologies, public and professional education programs, and basic and applied research.
Click here to learn more about SSPs.