AZA and its partners have created several tools and resources in an effort to maximize the long-term sustainability of all Species Survival Plan® (SSP) populations. A 2009 assessment of more than 500 SSPs concluded that few programs were estimated to be genetically and demographically sustainable over a 100 year period. As a result, the AZA community moved into action, developing multiple projects and spurring a shift in focus to managing collections and allocating resources with sustainable Animal Program populations in mind.
The SSP Sustainability Database:
A Platform for Population Sustainability
In partnership with the The Alexander Center for Applied Population Biology and the Population Management Center (PMC) at Lincoln Park Zoo, and funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services, AZA created a database that compiles extensive quantitative and qualitative information. Informed by this wealth of data, the AZA Conservation, Management, & Welfare Sciences Department can work with Taxonomic Advisory Groups (TAGs), Scientific Advisory Groups (SAGs), the PMC, and other working groups to identify patterns in population challenges and to strategically address population needs.
The online tools emerging from the Sustainability Database include the SSP Sustainability Reports and Search Portal. The Database automatically generates SSP Sustainability Reports which summarize SSP species’ basic care, exhibit design, and population management considerations and priorities. This information, which was originally provided by SSP Coordinators, TAG Chairs, and other Animal Program participants, is compiled in a searchable format, allowing collection planning users to perform searches that identify appropriate species for their collection planning criteria, while also directing resources and attention to managed species.
The SSP Sustainability Reports and Search Portal were designed as a member service for collection planners, Program Leaders, research scientists, and other zoo and aquarium staff. Access is available for staff at AZA-accredited institutions and Certified Related Facilities (CRF). Individual AZA members who are employed at an AZA-accredited institution or CRF may log-in and access the SSP Sustainability Search Portal through the link above. Employees of AZA-accredited institutions who are not individual AZA members can also access the Search Portal by first registering here or by using their previously registered log-in credentials.
Because the SSP Sustainability Report Search Portal is a complex and powerful tool, we have created four tutorials for users: general, collection planning, SSP management (for Program Leaders and IRs), and research. These videos are available on the AZA Online Training Modules page. See the SSP Sustainability Search Portal section for links to the various videos.
Alexander Center for Applied Population Biology and Population Management Center
The Institute for Museum and Library Services also provided funding to the Alexander Center for Applied Population Biology and the PMC at Lincoln Park Zoo for the development of Population Viability Analyses (PVAs) for SSP populations. PVAs are used to evaluate long-term demographic and genetic sustainability and extinction risk, identify key factors impacting a population’s dynamics, and compare alternative management strategies. They mimic the population-management strategies that scientists at the PMC use to manage zoo populations and the dynamics of small populations to help identify the best strategies to improve long-term viability. The PVAs that have been published are available through the Animal Programs Database, in the Program Documents section of the SSP Animal Program page.
The Alexander Center and PMC have also developed a tool for transparency between institutions and Animal Program managers: PMCTrack. PMCTrack is a web-based database and monitoring system designed to collect feedback and evaluate the outcomes of breeding and transfer recommendations. PMCTrack compiles data from all previously published recommendations and evaluates whether those recommendations occurred or not. PMCTrack also provides a survey communication system between institutions and Animal Program managers, allowing institutions to share information on what they need in an upcoming Breeding and Transfer Plan and why previous recommendations were not fulfilled. PMCTrack helps pinpoint management challenges that need to be addressed with more research, track whether recommendation-fulfillment rates improve over time and helps participants better understand each managed program—as well as how the AZA management system works across programs.
More information about the role the PMC plays in Animal Program population management and planning.
Reproductive Management Center
Reproductive management is not only essential to meeting SSP genetic and demographic goals, but is a key component of population management, enriching the lives of animals and resulting in a healthy age distribution. Temporarily preventing breeding in some individuals while promoting breeding in others is fundamental to successful population management. When genetically valuable animals fail to reproduce, the population loses genetic diversity. The AZA Reproductive Management Center (RMC), located at the Saint Louis Zoo and previously known as the Wildlife Contraception Center, has historically advised the AZA community on the efficacy, safety, and reversibility of contraceptive products. The role of the RMC has expanded beyond contraception to incorporate research into causes of reproductive failure, such as infertility and pair incompatibility, and to promote Lifetime Reproductive Planning, that is, breeding females early and often to establish and maintain fertility. The RMC and its Advisory Board work closely with the Population Management Center and coordinate efforts among relevant AZA Scientific Advisory Groups and Committees to address population-level threats to sustainability.
Read more information about the RMC.