International Society For Endangered Cats

A Voice For The Wild Cats of the World

Captive Felid Conservation – Part 1

by W. Angermeyer

On our blog site we often focus on felid conservation and research news occurring “in situ” or in the cat’s natural habitat.  A good deal of conservation also occurs in captivity or “ex situ”.  Who oversees the management of these captive conservation efforts? There are several well renowned  organizations that collaborate and manage programs which focus on the conservation of many threatened and endangered species including felids.

In Part I of this topic, I would like to focus on the conservation efforts of the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums which currently has a membership of 222 accredited zoos and aquariums throughout North America.  Twenty years ago, AZA established the Species Survival Plan Program™ (SSP), which is a long-term plan involving conservation breeding, habitat preservation, public education, field conservation, and supportive research to ensure survival for many of the planet’s threatened and endangered species. Currently, AZA members are involved in 319 SSPs working on behalf of 590 species. Each SSP Program is managed by a corresponding Taxon Advisory Groups (TAG) within AZA. The TAG is responsible for developing a comprehensive population Studbook and a Breeding and Transfer Plan which identifies population management goals and recommendations to ensure the sustainability of a healthy, genetically diverse, and demographically varied AZA population. The TAGs are in turn managed by the Wildlife Conservation and Management Committee. Confused yet?


The AZA Felid TAG is a committee of advisors with expertise in issues relating to wild cats. These advisors hold regular meetings attended by people from both AZA-member institutions and the private sector who have an interest in felids. The Felid TAG provides a forum for discussing husbandry, veterinary, ethical, and other issues that apply to the wild cats housed in AZA-member institutions. TAG advisors also examine animal management techniques based on scientific studies and assist SSP coordinators in developing animal care manuals to present best practices for the care and welfare of felid species. TAGs also promote cooperation and sharing of information between AZA and other regional and international conservation programs.

One important role of the Felid TAG is to recommend the wild cat species managed by AZA studbooks, SSPs, and other zoo- and aquarium-based programs through the regional collection planning (RCP) process. The Felid RCP helps animal managers determine which species are most in need of zoo- or aquarium-based conservation programs; establish priorities for management, research and conservation; and recruit qualified individuals to carry out these activities. In developing the RCP, the TAG takes into account both the limited amount of enclosure space available and the need to maintain animals in populations large enough to ensure their long-term genetic viability and demographic stability. They also consider the potential of selected species to contribute to conservation action through education, scientific research, fund-raising to support field conservation, and managed breeding for potential reintroduction. The goal of this careful planning process is that each cat species and individual animal held at AZA zoos and aquariums has a defined conservation or education purpose.


Species may be added or taken off the TAG managed list periodically, based on what the needs of that species are and how likely it is that zoos can manage and conserve them effectively. The current AZA Felid Species Survival Plans and Population Management Plans include:

SSPs: Amur Leopard, Black-footed Cat, Cheetah, Clouded Leopard, Fishing Cat, Jaguar, Lion, Ocelot, Sand Cat, Snow Leopard, Tiger

PMPs: Canada Lynx, Caracal, Pallas Cat, Puma, Serval

For more information on the Felid Tag and participating institutions, please visit the National Zoo’s web-site.

Thanks to Mr. Guilt for the photographs!


One response to “Captive Felid Conservation – Part 1

  1. Mandy Jones January 16, 2013 at 5:41 am

    Thank you! I have recently been reading up on the Felid SSPs and yes it is all rather confusing. Could you perhaps cover the following queries in subsequent posts: 1. What is the purpose of PMPs (Population Management Plans?) Are they to reduce the captive populations of the more common species? 2. Do all zoos that belong to AZA participate in the SSP of a species, or not necessarily? ie could a zoo house black-footed cats for example, but not be part of the black-footed cat Species Survival Plan? And vice versa, could a zoo that does not have black-footed cats still participate in eg fund raising for black-footed cat research in-situ? 3. Is the basic idea of SSPs to keep the captive individuals for genetic purposes or to release some individuals back into the wild? 4. Are the captive individuals that are part of SSP breeding programs not usually on exhibit? Many thanks!

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