What are Species Survival Plan® Programs?

Species Survival Plan® (SSP) Programs monitor zoo-based breeding of endangered species to ensure maximum growth and diversity of captive stocks. There are currently more than 500 SSP Programs within the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

Each SSP is managed by a Taxon Advisory Group, a team of people responsible for developing a comprehensive population studbook and a breeding and transfer plan. This plan includes population management goals and recommendations to ensure the sustainability of a healthy, genetically diverse, and demographically varied zoo-based population.

Why maintain genetic diversity?

In order to help a species avoid extinction, we must 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 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, 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. After an individual's genes are well-represented in the zoo population, he or she is no longer permitted to breed.

WHICH SPECIES at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium have SSPs?

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 SSPs can be found here. You can also look for the SSP logo near Zoo animal exhibits and on Animal Fact Sheets.

Do SSPs work?

One example of a successful SSP 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 over 250 individuals and red wolves have even been reintroduced to the wild.

Learn more

For more information about the AZA and SSPs, visit the AZA web site.