The Species Survival Plans, or SSPs, began in 1981 as a cooperative population management and conservation program for selected species at North American zoos and aquariums. Each SSP carefully 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. Beyond this, SSPs include a variety of other cooperative conservation activities, such as research, public education, reintroduction, and field projects. Currently, 87 SSPs covering 116 individual species are administered by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, whose membership includes 183 accredited zoos and aquariums throughout North America.
How Species Are Selected
How It Works
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 are the giant panda, Siberian tiger and lowland gorilla. 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, freshwater fish, etc.).
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.
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 of field projects and habitat protection, development of new technologies, public and professional education programs, and basic and applied research.