Conservation Programs

Riverbanks Zoo and Garden is one of more than 220 accredited institutional members of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA). AZA zoos and aquariums have transformed significantly over the past several decades, developing more comprehensive research, conservation and conservation education initiatives while maintaining a tradition as premier recreational facilities. This transformation began in 1980 when the AZA’s Board of Directors designated conservation as the association’s number one priority.

Prior to 1980, zoos generally focused their efforts on exhibition and providing basic animal care for the individual animals in their collections. While many species reproduced in captivity, there was little inter-zoo cooperation with regard to species- level population management. With conservation as the AZA’s stated priority, significant strides were made through the development of collaborative programs designed to support the careful management and conservation of the species under our care in order to ensure that they survive for future generations.

Note: In 1980, the AZA was known as the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums (AAZPA).


  • An AZA studbook is a true record of the history of a population held in a zoo or aquarium. It includes pedigrees of animals and a listing of the various locations in which animals have been held. The studbook traces the entire history of each individual in a population with these collective histories defining the population’s genetic and demographic identity. AZA studbooks are primarily used for monitoring and managing populations in zoos and aquariums. They provide an accurate database for particular species that allows detailed genetic and demographic analyses. For example, the data can be used to make breeding decisions so that genetic variation can be retained and close inbreeding avoided. The data can also be used to assess whether a population is stable, increasing, or decreasing in numbers. Studbooks are the basis for the management of Species Survival Plans (SSPs).
  • AP story on studbooks and population management: “It’s a jungle out there: Zoos go online to find mates for animals” — by Katrina A. Goggins.

Species Survival Plan® (SSP)

  • The Species Survival Plan® (SSP) emerged in 1981, providing a tool for intensive, cooperative species-level management to help ensure the survival of selected wildlife species in AZA zoos and aquariums. As of April 2011, there were more than 500 species-level AZA animal management programs of which nearly 300 were managed by an SSP program.

Taxon Advisory Group (TAG)

  • The Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) was established to assist in examining the conservation needs of entire taxonomic groups, or groups of related species. Through a process known as regional collection planning, the TAGs carry out systematic assessments of the captive space available for their respective taxa and recommend species for new studbooks (historical records of a captive species), SSPs, and other zoo and aquarium based programs. The TAGs set regional program priorities, in this case for the North American zoo community. There are now 46 TAGs covering various groups of invertebrates, amphibians, fish, reptiles, birds and mammals.

Scientific Advisory Groups (SAGs)

  • Twelve AZA Scientific Advisory Groups (SAGs) help facilitate the conservation/research activities of AZA member institutions. The SAGs include a wide variety of areas of expertise including behavior and husbandry, contraception, genome banking, nutrition, research coordination, reintroduction, small population management, systematics, veterinary science, and institutional data management.