Love Connection: Saving species through matchmaking
"Matchmaker, Matchmaker, make me a match, find me a find, catch me a catch." For humans, finding Mr. or Mrs. Right has evolved from little black books to online dating sites, but what about finding that perfect mate in the animal world?
For AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) accredited facilities, Species Survival Plans (SSP) determine animal matchmaking. The program was created to help ensure the survival of selected endangered or threatened species.
"SSPs utilize databases that contain information on all of the animals in AZA zoos and aquariums," said General Curator Lisa Laskoski. "This includes each animal’s entire demographic history and family lineage." The data is critical to pairing animals in order to maintain healthy, genetically diverse, self-sustaining populations, not only for today, but also well into the future.
Alexandria Zoo participates in over 50 Species Survival Plan programs for animals ranging from a 400-gram Prevost's squirrel to a 450-pound Aldabra tortoise. "When matching animals, the SSP coordinators consider factors such as genetics, logistics, personality, and space availability," said Laskoski. This means participation in these programs does not always equate to a breeding pair of animals. AZA zoos and aquariums also provide spaces for elderly animals or other individuals without breeding recommendations.
In addition to population management, SSPs also participate in a variety of other cooperative conservation activities such as research, public education, reintroduction, and field projects.
AZA accredited zoos and aquariums continue to play an increasing role in wildlife conservation. Through programs such as SSPs, zoos and aquariums are working together to ensure extinction meets its match.