05 Feb Species Survival Plan: Strategic Alliance for Survival
The first blog entry of February comes to you as a request from our Facebook Page with curiosity about the breeding programs that are often present in zoos. Their question was:
“How do parents get chosen for breeding endangered species?”
This is an excellent question that opens the door to a topic that plays a vital role in the future of hundreds of species and the trajectory of their survival.
The Species Survival Plan (SSP) Program is corporately managed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) working hand in hand as a part of the AZA’s mission to be an organization that “helps its members and the animals in their care thrive by providing services advancing animal welfare, public engagement and the conservation of wildlife.*” To date there are nearly 300 programs. The main goal of the SSP Programs is to identify “population goals and recommendations to manage a genetically diverse, demographically varied, and biologically sound population**.”
So when it comes to SSP recommendations for breeding, there is a great deal of analysis and evaluation that go into recommending a pair. The reasoning behind all of this intentionality is to maximize genetic diversity. When a species is highly genetically diverse, it directly relates to the species overall health. For example, if there were a male who has had a lot of offspring, depending on the critical population level of the species, it is typically recommended that he does not continue to breed for a portion of time. This allows for other genetics to be present in the species because if it were that genetically similar individuals began breeding with one another this can lead to health complications ultimately depleting the genetic strength of the species. You can visit the AZA’s website to get a more indepth look and look through the current SSP Handbook by using this link: https://www.aza.org/species-survival-plan-programs
One of the most notable success stories is that of the black-footed ferret. Believed to have been extinct in the wild due to “a misunderstanding of the ecosystem that led to a 1900s government-sponsored poisoning campaign targeting prairie dogs and supporting land conversion for cities, livestock production, and farming***”, black-footed ferrets are now thriving! In 2019 it was reported through the AZA that “the population has grown from the last remaining 24 rescued individuals to nearly 700. Three hundred of these are living in zoos and the USFWS’s National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center, and 300 to 400 survive in the wild in 32 reintroductions found throughout North America’s Great Plains including eight U.S. states, Canada, and Mexico.***”
If it were not for the intervention of zoos and conservation centers alike intentionally monitoring, tracking, and analyzing the black-footed ferret’s population levels and genetic health this species would no longer be alive and thriving.
Have a topic of interest? Let us know in the comment section below!