Monthly Wild Cat News
A Voice For The Wild Cats of the World
by W. Angermeyer
We received a request generated by my last post asking which cats were listed in each of the color coded Felid Species Survival Plans (SSPs) from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Here are the species listed by program, as published in the February issue of the Felid Tag Newsletter:
Yellow: population is OK now but is not sustainable over the long term
Caracal, Serval, Amur Leopard, Canada Lynx, Cheetah, Snow Leopard, Ocelot, Puma, Clouded Leopard, Bobcat, Jaguar, Black-footed Cat
Green: population in captivity sustainable with a high percentage of genetic diversity for at least the next 100 years.
Red: population in captivity nowhere near sustainable (less than 50 individuals with poor genetic diversity)
Fishing Cat, Sand Cat, Pallas’ Cat
by W. Angermeyer
Before moving on in my series of posts on conservation programs for endangered captive cats, I would like to go in to a bit more depth on the American Association of Zoo’s and Aquariums (AZA’s) conservation programs in order to provide some updated information and answer some questions ISEC received.
In the past couple of years, the AZA has made some changes and they are phasing out Population Management Programs (PMPs). All of the felid PMPs have been changed to Species Survival Plans (SSPs) which are now designated as one of three colors: green, yellow and red. If an SSP is green, that means that the population in captivity is predicted to be sustainable with a high percentage of genetic diversity (at least 90%) for at least the next 100 years based on genetic analyses. If an SSP is yellow, then the population of that species in AZA zoos is OK now but is not sustainable. These populations need work if we want the species to persist in zoos long-term. Finally, red SSPs are populations that are nowhere near sustainable (less than 50 individuals with poor genetic diversity) and need a lot of help or may be extinct in zoos in the very near future.
The original purpose of an SSP was to get zoos to communicate and cooperate when managing animals to ensure that the captive population of each species was healthy so zoos weren’t constantly taking animals out of the wild or inbreeding to produce individuals. Genetics certainly played a big role in influencing this purpose. Now the purpose (also genetics driven) is to achieve sustainability within the captive population so that we have healthy populations in the long-term. One reason is to have a reserve of animals to help supplement the wild population in case it is ever necessary. Although zoos and researchers still have much to learn about how to effectively reintroduce animals back into the wild, the possibility to do so is a goal and is a reality for some SSPs such as the Mexican Wolf, Whooping Cranes, Vancouver Island Marmots or the Amur leopard. An SSP species may not be considered endangered in the wild but might require better management in captivity to improve the genetics of the captive population.
Captive individuals that are part of an SSP breeding program may or may not be on public exhibit depending on the availability of space at the institution. A shortage of space tends to be more of an issue with mammalian species. Some institutions do have off-exhibit space and utilize this space as necessary. Whether or not breeding stock will be on exhibit depends on how imperative privacy is for breeding and births. If public display is detrimental, then it will be a priority for off-exhibit space to be created. A lot of species that zoos have had success with breed fine while on exhibit. Each individual animal’s temperament would need to be considered as well. For zoos in temperate or sub-arctic climates, there would also be seasonal considerations and limitations for housing.
It could be said that all AZA institutions participate in all SSP programs because at some point they are likely to communicate about an SSP species such as when they are considering bringing in a new species They must agree to follow the rules of the SSP which vary according to the color designation. For example, all AZA zoos have to follow the breeding and transfer recommendations of a green SSP (however, keep in mind that recommendations are never made without considering the wishes and wellbeing of each zoo). Zoos are not forced to follow the recommendations of yellow or red SSPs if they choose not to, but it is strongly encouraged. Any zoo housing an individual member of an SSP species participates to some degree in the program.
Lastly, there was a question regarding fundraising for SSP animals regardless of whether the institution houses that SSP species. Any zoo may fund raise for any species regardless of whether there is an SSP designation for that species and any SSP can (and with the exception of extenuating circumstances probably will) accept funds raised by anyone regardless of whether they are an AZA accredited organization.
So in short, I guess you can think of the AZA Felid Tag as a very complex and involved dating service for cats. I wonder if there are some cats out on blind dates or taking the plunge in an arranged marriage for Valentine’s Day?
Thanks for providing updated information on the AZA’s SSPs and TAGs to:
– Dan Dembiec from the Jacksonville Zoo, Serval SSP Coordinator/Studbook Keeper and a Felid TAG Steering Committee Member
– Pam Pritchard, Animal Collection Specialist at the Calgary Zoo
Thank you to Mr Guilt for the Clouded Leopard photos.
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!