What is the Species Survival Plan?

The Species Survival Plan (SSP) is designed to help insure the survival of selected wildlife species. Various animals at the Cameron Park zoo are participants in SSP programs. Look for the symbol on the animal graphics to determine if the animal is involved in this program.

The Species Survival Plan began in 1981 as a cooperative population management and conservation program for selected species in zoo and aquariums in North America. Each SSP manages the breeding of a species in order to maintain a healthy and self-sustaining captive population that is both genetically diverse and demographically stable. The program is administered by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association and its members of accredited zoos. Some of the animals that are part of the SSP at the Cameron Park Zoo include the White-Handed Gibbons, African Lions, Sumatran Tigers, African Elephants, Aruba Island Rattlesnake, White Rhinoceros, Reticulated Giraffe, Ringtail Lemurs, Blue Eyed Back Lemur, Red Ruffed Lemur, and Kori Bustard.

What do SSPs do?

The mission of the American Zoo and Aquarium’s (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP) Program is to help ensure the survival of selected wildlife species. The strategies are:

  • Organize scientifically managed, captive breeding programs for selected wildlife as a hedge against extinction.
  • Cooperate with other institutions and agencies to ensure integrated conservation strategies.
  • Develop and implement strategies to increase public awareness of wildlife conservation issues including development and implementation of education strategies.
  • 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 habitats as deemed appropriate and necessary.

How Species are 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 which arouse strong feelings in the public for their preservation and the protection of their habitat. Examples include the giant panda, Sumatran tiger and lowland gorilla.

How it Works

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.

The SSP Master Plan

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 holding space.

The Studbook

Studbooks are fundamental to the successful operation of SSPs, as each contains the vital records of an entire captive population of a species, including births, deaths, transfers, and 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. 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.

The Husbandry Manual

Many SSPs have developed Husbandry Manuals, which 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.

Conservation Action

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 place in the ecosystem. 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.