Conservation Breeding Programs

When you go to the zoo you are likely to think the whole experience is there so that people can enjoy and learn about kinds of animals from around the world. Without zoos most of us would never get to see any of these wonderful animals. However, good zoos do much more than simply display animals to visitors. Good zoos also play a vital role in conservation of endangered species.

Many have specific programs that work to preserve and protect endangered species. One such plan is the Species Survival Plan (SSP). According to WAZA (World Association of Zoos and Aquariums), zoos and aquariums take part in cooperative international and regional breeding programs outside of the species natural habitat to form viable populations that can benefit those same species in their natural habitat.

These breeding program serve many purposes:

  • Support demographic and genetic backup to wild populations
  • Provide animals for public education
  • Support important research
  • Provide awareness opportunities as ambassador animals

Many zoos also offer small grants to support ape conservation in their natural habitats.

The idea behind a successful breeding program is that the animals being bred are healthy, well-maintained and capable of self-sustaining reproduction. It is important to have a sufficient genetic diversity and the animals spread out among various locations to limit the risk of catastrophic loss if something happens in one location. Like the ebola virus outbreak that killed over 5,000 gorillas and chimpanzees. This outbreak was so bad that it killed more than 90% of the gorillas in Minkébé Park in northern Gabon.

Conservation breeding programs are typically managed by regional associations which keep track of the populations in zoos and make breeding recommendations to avoid in-breeding. Each program is managed by their corresponding Taxon Advisory Group (TAG).

The Ape TAG is responsible for the following species:

Common Name

Common Chimpanzee
Lar Gibbon (White-Handed)
White-Cheeked Gibbon
Western Lowland Gorilla
Bornean Orangutan
Sumatran Orangutan

Scientific Name

Pan paniscus
Pan troglodytes
Hylobates lar
Nomascus leucogenys
Gorilla gorilla
Pongo pygmaeus
Pongo abelii
Symphalangus syndactylus

ape conservation


In North America this is managed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) which has 120 member zoos. In Europe, the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) is the population management tool for species kept in European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) institutions. They have 340 member zoos in 41 different countries. The Gorilla EEP is one of the most intensively managed and oldest breeding programmes in European zoos. The Gorilla EEP was started in 1987 and was run by the Frankfurt Zoological Garden, who continue to maintain the Gorilla Studbook. In Australia and Asia it is the Australasian Species Management Program (ASMP) of the Zoo and Aquarium Association (ZAA) Australasia.

Close Menu