Species Survival Plan (SSP)
The mission of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums's (AZA's) Species Survival Plan (SSP) Program is to help ensure the survival of wildlife species.
What is a SSP?
The Species Survival Plan, or SSP, began in 1981 as a cooperative population management and conservation program for selected species at North American zoos and aquariums. Each SSP manages the breeding of a species to maintain a healthy, self-sustaining captive population, both genetically diverse and demographically stable. SSPs include other conservation activities including research, education, reintroduction, and field projects. Learn more: www.aza.org/species-survival-plan-program/
How Species are Selected
A species must satisfy several criteria to be selected for an SSP. Most SSP species are endangered or threatened in the wild and have the interest of professionals with time to dedicate toward their conservation. Also, SSP species are often "flagship species," well-known animals that arouse strong feelings for their preservation and protection of their habitat.
How it Works
Each SSP has a species coordinator responsible for managing day-to-day activities. Management committees of experts assist with conservation efforts, including population management, research, education, and reintroduction when feasible. Each institution holding an SSP animal has a representative who attends SSP meetings and coordinates SSP activities at the institution.
The SSP Master Plan
An SSP Master Plan outlines goals for the population. It designs the "family tree" of a captive population to achieve maximum genetic diversity and demographic stability. Breeding and management recommendations are made for each animal with consideration of the feasibility of transfers between institutions, as well as maintenance of natural social groups. Often, Master Plans include recommendations not to breed animals to avoid the population outgrowing available holding space.
Studbooks are fundamental to the successful operation of SSPs as each contains the vital records of an entire captive population, including births, deaths, transfers, and lineage. A studbook enables the management group to develop a Master Plan that contains breeding recommendations based on genetics, demographics and species' biology. Studbooks are compiled and updated by "Studbook Keepers" with knowledge of the species and time to assist in its conservation.
Several SSPs include reintroduction projects, though reintroduction 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 several species to their natural places in the ecosystem. SSPs for which reintroduction is not appropriate have a positive impact on 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.