Making a Difference

In 1924, the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums (AZA) was formed as an affiliate of the American Institute of Park Executives. In the fall of 1971, the AZA membership voted to become an independent association.

In 1973, the Endangered Species Act was passed to protect US species deemed in danger of extinction. The concern was that the country was losing species that were scientifically, culturally, and educationally important.

In 1981, the AZA created the Species Survival Plan program (SSP) to help ensure the survival of selected species in zoos and aquariums that were threatened, endangered, or otherwise in danger of extinction in the wild. Conservationists believe captive breeding programs help maintain healthy and genetically diverse animal populations which increase chances of survival.

 AZA accredited zoos involved in SSP programs cooperate and coordinate population management and conservation efforts including research, conservation genetics, public education, reintroduction, and field conservation projects.

In 2019, Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE)granting program was established within AZA to support field conservation. According to the 2023 SAFE annual report the program:

  • Builds on established recovery plans and history of commitment
  • Prioritizes collaboration among AZA member institutions
  • Implements strategic conservation and stakeholder engagement activities
  • Measures and reports conservation progress

Currently the AZA has nearly 300 Species Survival Plans. Each plan is coordinated by someone working in one of the AZA accredited zoos. Coordinators do this work in addition to their day-to-day job. Coordinators work with zoos to determine breeding plans. It is no simple thing to ensure diversity in genetics.

Here are the numbers according to the AZA website.

  • 237 accredited zoos and aquariums in US
  • Over 780,000 animals in the care of AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums
  • Over 8,600 species.
  • Over 800 Vulnerable, Endangered, Critically Endangered, and Extinct In The Wild species.
  • Nearly 500 Species Survival Plan® Programs

AZA species reintroduction programs include the black-footed ferret, the California condor, the northern riffleshell, the golden lion tamarin, the Karner blue butterfly, the Oregon spotted frog, the palila finch, the red wolf, and the Wyoming toad.

Miller Park Zoo is home to 48 of the endangered or threatened species. One of our newest residents from that list is the Chilean Pudu(a small deer species). When Miller Park Zoo added a Pudu to the new South American Exhibit, the plan was to eventually add a second Pudu. When it came time to make the addition, Pearl Yusof, Zoo Curator, contacted the Species Survival Plan Coordinator who works at the Bronx Zoo. Pearl knew there were few Pudus in zoos across the country.  

The SSP Coordinator used the population management computer matrix available for active SSP programs and operated by the Population Management Center or PMC headquartered in Chicago to find an available animal.

The Toledo Zoo had an older female as well as breeding animals. Since Miller Park was not necessarily looking to breed the Pudus, Pearl expressed interest in acquiring the older female. While that female was housed at the Toledo Zoo, she was owned by the Bronx Zoo which is now called Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Once the WCS agreed to the transfer, the Toledo Zoo had to agree. Both zoos agreed it was in the best interest of the animal to transfer her to Miller Park.

When an animal is transferred, the zoo that owns the animal has to determine if the transfer is a donation, sale, loan, or breeding loan. WCS wanted to retain ownership, therefore the Pudu owned by WCS, on loan to Toledo, was transferred on an exhibit loan to Miller Park. Paperwork was prepared, agreed upon, and signed.

Our vets worked with the Toledo vets to check the animal’s medical history and any ongoing concerns. Receiving vets can ask for as many “pre-shipment” tests as is reasonable. Once the vets approve the animal, it can be transferred. Vets also approve where we would quarantine the animal for a month after she arrives.

The Pudu is small enough to fit into a large dog kennel, so she could have been flown to us. At the same time, we were also going through this process to receive a Giant Anteater, Wallaroo and Red Panda. Since the anteater was too big to travel by plane, he was coming from the east coast by ground transportation. Pearl worked with the SSP Coordinators at four different zoos to arrange transportation for all of these animals. After contacting three ground transport companies, three of the animals were able to make the journey together.

All of this work involving so many people happens behind the scenes. When guests are thrilled to see a new animal, they have no idea what it took to find and acquire the new addition to our zoo.

SSP and SAFE Species at Miller Park Zoo

Species Survival Plan (SSPs)

Snow Leopard  Sumatran TigerPallas’ CatRed Wolf
Red PandaRingtailDwarf MongooseNorth American River Otter
DeBrazza’s monkeyPygmy Slow LorisCallimicoCotton-Top Tamarin
Red Ruffed LemurWhite-Faced Saki MonkeyFrancois’ langurGalapagos Tortoise
Prehensile-Tailed PorcupineSouthern Three-Banded ArmadilloBrazilian AgoutiTammar Wallaby
Common WallarooPrehensile-Tailed SkinkSwan GooseTawny Frogmouth
Laughing KookaburraScarlet IbisGreater FlamingoBlack-Necked Stilt
TroupialCrested-wood partridgeSunbitternCrested wood partridge
Turquoise TanagerIndochinese box turtleSilver-beaked tanagerBlue-Grey Tanager
Red-Capped CardinalBali mynaGolden Crested MynahRadiated Tortoise
Scarlet faced liocichlaRed-billed leiothrixPanamanian Golden FrogMossy leaf-tailed gecko

SAFE species (Saving Animals From Extinction)        

ChinchillaMonarch ButterflyRed PandaRed Wolf
Coral (multi-species)North American Songbird (multi-species)Radiated TortoiseAmerican Turtle (multi-species)