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Zoo News: Where Roosevelt Park Zoo gets its animals

A frequent question that the zoo staff receives is about where the animals that we care for come from. It really is a great question because there have been so many changes over the years relating to the acquisition of animals in both zoos and aquariums. Years ago, many of the animals people saw might have been taken from the wild, but today few if any are collected thanks to the collaborative efforts made by zoos to develop best practices for breeding and rearing most species currently in human care.

In the early 1980s, the AZA (Association of Zoos & Aquariums) established its first SSPs (Species Survival Programs) designed to help zoos work cooperatively to enhance the captive populations of individual species. The intent was to manage species cooperatively so that all zoos could benefit long term by managing reproduction and setting minimum guidelines for care. The reason managing reproduction is so important is to make sure that in the future, there is a genetically viable population, meaning that the entire population of a species maintains a high genetical variability for the next 100 years. This is easier with some species than others depending on how many founders you have in the captive population to manage from.

Prior to this period, many zoos were breeding animals merely to increase visitation because everyone loves babies. Then comes the time when all the zoos are saturated with these animals, so what do you do with the offspring? Too often, animals would end up going to private individuals or exotic animal sale auctions once they were no longer valuable to their owners. Of course, this created a flood of issues for local governments having to deal with the fallout of private ownership of anything from a kangaroo to an elephant. This problem was especially troublesome with the large cats that found their way to individuals who really didn’t have a sense of how dangerous they can be.

Today, the SSP programs regulate the breeding of most species you see in zoos today. Through needs and wants surveys conducted each year, an SSP can determine the number of offspring they hope to produce each year to satisfy the zoos’ need for animals without breeding more than the participating zoos can handle. To ensure the breedings that are recommended have a positive effect on the overall population, the SSPs base those pairings on the genetic background of each individual based on the information from stud books for each species. Each year, each SSP committee will meet to make these decisions for breeding recommendations. These recommendations often involve moving animals from one zoo to another or determining that animals that are together should not breed. But just because animals are recommended to breed doesn’t necessarily mean a zoo will be successful in breeding them.

The Roosevelt Park Zoo has been fortunate to have the opportunity to breed several species as recommended by the SSP programs, while some others have yet to breed successfully. The zoo does its part not only by being able to breed, but sometimes just as importantly to hold animals with the endgame being a successful future for all the animals and for the communities that support them.

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