The Species Survival Plan (SSP) strategy was organized by zoos in 1981 as a blueprint for cooperative breeding programs in North America. The approach has evolved to combat extinction in the wild as well.
The American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) administers the program. Individual SSP’s are developed to aid the recovery of certain species. Each SSP manages the breeding of a species to achieve a healthy, genetically diverse, and self-sustaining captive population.
These "living gene banks" are carefully managed to maintain the species’ genetic variation.
Individuals from captive populations can be reintroduced to the wild in appropriate circumstances. Zoos and aquariums also provide research and promote wildlife education and habitat conservation in the species’ native countries.
Until recently, participation was limited to North American zoos and aquariums. Scientists and managers realized, however, that international cooperation was required for some species, and international efforts are underway. One example is the SSP for the Sumatran tiger, which now involves institutions in the tiger’s native country.