What are Species Survival PlanĀ® Programs?

Species Survival PlanĀ® (SSP) Programs monitor zoo-based breeding of endangered species to ensure growth and diversity of zoo-based populations.

There are currently more than 500 SSP Programs within the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

Each SSP Program is species-specific and led by a team of experts who develop a comprehensive plan to identify breeding recommendations for that species. The goal is to ensure a healthy, genetically diverse population with a balanced age and gender distribution for at least 100 years.

Why maintain genetic diversity?

To help a species avoid extinction, it's important to consider not only the health of the individual animals, but also the health of that species' gene pool. A gene pool is the complete set of all the genes (DNA) making up a population. The diversity of the gene pool determines the overall genetic health of the population. When a species is represented by too few individuals, genetic diversity is compromised after a few generations of inbreeding.

To implement a SSP Program, conservation biologists gather some or all of the remaining individuals of an endangered species to encourage breeding in a way that will ensure the genetic variability of the species while protecting the health of the individuals.

WHICH SPECIES have SSP programs?

SSP Programs usually focus on animals that are in danger of extinction in the wild. A complete list of Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium species with SSP Programs can be found here.

Look for the SSP logo near Zoo animal exhibits and on Animal Fact Sheets.

red wolf circle whiteDo SSP Programs work?

One example of a successful SSP Program in action is the amazing story of red wolf recovery right here at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. Red wolves once roamed the eastern third of the country, but by 1980 they were declared extinct in the wild. Fourteen remaining individuals were brought to Point Defiance Zoo to launch the red wolf SSP.

Thanks to the collaborative efforts of the Zoo and our many partner organizations, the red wolf population has grown to about 250 individuals and red wolves have even been reintroduced to the wild.