You may have seen references to “SSPs” on your visits to Sequoia Park Zoo and other accredited zoos around the country. This important program, managed through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), has played a role at our zoo for over 20 years. The Species Survival Plan program began in 1981 as a cooperative population management and conservation program for selected species in zoos and aquariums in North America. Each SSP manages the captive breeding of a species in order to maintain a healthy and self-sustaining 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. Currently, over 115 SSPs are managed by zoo experts using state of the art reproductive technologies, genetic analysis and carefully selected breeding recommendations.
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 of "flagship species" include the Giant panda, California condor, and Lowland gorilla.
The SSP program not only requires participating zoos to breed only selected pairs of animals, but there is also a need for housing animals that are currently not candidates for breeding. It is this role that is generally suited for Sequoia Park Zoo. Breeding animals often requires lots of space, specialized facilities, and staff time. It also means more transportation of animals to and from other zoos. Due to our limited resources and isolated location, these issues can be problematic. Serving as a “holding” institution for non-breeding SSP animals allows us to fill an important need for SSPs within our capabilities and interests.
Sequoia Park Zoo currently participates in a total of five SSP programs. These include White-handed gibbon, Spider monkey, Cotton-topped tamarin, Chacoan peccary, and Red panda. In our Master Plan, we have included several more SSP species such as Maned wolf, and Baird’s tapir.
Visit the zoo this winter and learn more about this important wildlife conservation program and how your local zoo contributes!