How Will Our Animals Survive?
Just how will zoo animals survive so that future generations continue to care and learn about, and enjoy these complex creatures? Well, there’s a big blueprint for that! It’s called the Species Survival Plan® (SSP). The SSP programs were developed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) to help oversee the husbandry and breeding management and, as a result, the sustainability of select animal species within AZA-member institutions, such as zoos. Many of these programs help enhance conservation efforts of these species in the wild as well.
An Ancestry Tree for Animals
Currently, almost 500 SSP programs exist, each of which helps to manage the breeding of a select species and is overseen by the appropriate Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) and managed by an SSP program coordinator. The program coordinator is responsible for working with participating members and coordinating conservation, research, husbandry, management and educational activities related to the selected program species. The biggest part of a program coordinator’s job is to develop a detailed studbook, and Breeding and Transfer Plan (BTP). A studbook is a document that tracks all of the births, deaths, transfers and other information on all of the animals of that selected population. A BTP summarizes the current demographic and genetic status of the population, describes the management designation, and includes recommendations for breeding pairs and transfers. Once these documents are complete, population management goals and recommendations can be carried out to assist in the sustainability of a healthy, genetically diverse and demographically varied population.
Green, Yellow and Red...Oh My!
Each SSP program is designated as a green, yellow or red management program.
- Green SSP Programs are those populations that retain a minimum of 90 percent gene diversity at 100 years or 10 generations, and include at least 50 individual animals held among at least three AZA member institutions. Green programs may only work with approved partners and participation is mandatory.
- Yellow SSP Programs are those populations that retain less than 90 percent gene diversity at 100 years or 10 generations, but include at least 50 individual animals (within AZA institutions and Sustainability Partner institutions) held among at least three AZA member institutions.
- Red SSP Programs are those populations that retain less than 90 percent gene diversity at 100 years or 10 generations, and include between 20 and 49 individual animals held among at least three AZA member institutions.
- Yellow and Red programs may work with private individuals and participation is voluntary.
It Takes a Big Village
Much effort and coordination go into the planning, care and long-term survivability for each selected species. Recommendations from many different partners, including the AZA Population Management Center, Reproductive Management Center, Program Coordinators and Institutional Representatives, are needed to develop a BTP that will benefit a selected species. The success of each SSP program is not solely a reflection of the tireless efforts of the program coordinator or associated TAG. Successful programs emerge through the dedicated efforts of and effective collaboration between program coordinators, advisors and participants, and the amount of resources participating zoos and partners allocate toward those programs.
The Oklahoma City Zoo participates in an impressive number of SSP programs! Look below to see more than 100 species the Zoo helps meticulously track, plan and manage as part of the global effort to ensure their survival.
SSP Resources to Check Out
Species Survival Plan® (SSP) Program, https://www.aza.org/animal-programs and https://www.aza.org/assets/2332/aza_species_survival_plan_handbook_2016.pdf
– Stacey Sekscienski, zoological curator of reptiles and amphibians, and Rio Fuerte Beaded Lizard SSP program coordinator/studbook keeper