Species Survival Plans Help Preserve Wildlife
Today, zoos are playing an increasing role in wildlife conservation by acting as an "ark" for species in jeopardy. Biologists estimate that thousands of plant and animal species will become extinct during the next 25 to 50 years. Captive breeding programs may be their only hope for survival. To strengthen and coordinate animal programs in North America, the Species Survival Plan (SSP) was developed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) in 1981. Each SSP manages the breeding of a species in order to maintain a healthy and self-sustaining zoo 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.
SSP programs serve over 500 individual species. The Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens participates in 38 SSPs which include the chestnut mandibled toucan, Violet
turaco, cheetah, red ruffed lemur, Aruba Island rattlesnake, Mexican
lance-headed rattlesnake, black-footed cat, siamang, Central American spider
monkey, cotton-top tamarin, lesser spot-nosed guenon, Southern black howler
monkey, clouded leopard, caracal,
red-capped cardinal, South American bushmaster, tawny frogmouth, fossa,
giraffe, kinkajou, laughing kookaburra, hyacinth macaw, North American river
otter, Palawan peacock pheasant, greater one-horned rhinoceros, blue bellied
roller, African crested porcupine, prehensile-tailed skink, puma,
prehensile-tailed skink, Linne’s
two-toed sloth, Eastern indigo snake, raidated tortoise, Grand Cayman rock
Iguana, lesser Madagascar hedgehog tenrec, black-breasted leaf turtle, king
vulture, serval, Chacoan peccary, and warthog.
Through the SSP, institutions like the Central Florida Zoo seek to preserve these species by coordinating long-term breeding programs, which maximize genetic diversity.
A species must satisfy a number of criteria to be selected for SSP designation. Most SSP species are endangered or threatened in the wild and have the interest of qualified professionals with time to dedicate toward conservation of these species. New SSPs are approved by the AZA Wildlife Conservation and Management Committee, with input from the appropriate Taxon Advisory Group (TAG), which manages conservation programs for related groups of species (great apes, bears, felines, etc). The Central Florida Zoo is involved in 22 Taxon Advisory Groups for amphibians, apes, canids, crocodilians, felids, lizards, New World primates, parrots, prosimians, snakes, and terrestrial invertebrates.
How do SSPs work?
Each SSP has a qualified species coordinator who is responsible for managing its day-to-day activities. Management committees composed of various experts assist the coordinator with the conservation efforts for the particular species, including aspects of population management, research, education, and reintroduction when feasible. Each institution holding an SSP animal has a representative who may attend SSP meetings and coordinates relevant SSP activities at their institution.
An SSP Master Plan outlines the goals for the population. It designs the “family tree” of a particular captive 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 space.
The Central Florida Zoo coordinates the following Studbooks:
- Eastern Indigo Snake - Fred Antonio
- Silvery-cheeked Hornbill & Trumpeter Hornbill - Cindy Dupree
- White-cheeked Turaco - Heather Holtz
Studbooks are fundamental to the successful operation of SSPs as each contains the vital records of an entire captive population of species including births, deaths, transfers and family lineage. With appropriate computer analysis, a studbook enables the species coordinator and management group to develop a Master Plan that contains sound breeding recommendations based on genetics, demographics and the species’ biology.
Several SSPs include reintroduction projects, though 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 captive breeding and reintroduction are not panaceas for the endangered species problem, reintroduction projects have been successful in returning certain species to their natural places in the ecosystem. SSPs for which reintroduction is not appropriate have a positive impact on assisting the wild population through support for field projects and habitat protection, development of new technologies, public and professional education programs, and basic and applied research.
Animals at the Central Florida Zoo that are managed by the Species Survival Plan
- Clouded leopard
- African black footed cat
- North American river otter
- Red ruffed lemur
- Cotton-top tamarin
- Prehensile tailed porcupine
- African crested porcupine
- Lesser Madagascar hedgehog tenrec
- Black howler monkey
- Central American spider monkey
- Hyacinth macaw
- Greater one-horned rhinoceros
- Linne’s two-toed sloth
- King vulture
- Red-capped cardinal
- Chestnut mandibled toucan
- Palawan peacock pheasant
- Tawny frogmouth
- Laughing kookaburra
- Violaceous turaco
- Blue-bellied roller
- Aruba Island rattlesnake
- Grand Cayman Island rock iguana
- Eastern indigo snake
- Mexican lance-headed rattlesnake
- Prehensile-tailed skink
- Louisiana pine snake
- Radiated tortoise
- Black breasted leaf turtle