As we draw attention to the importance of protecting endangered species on Endangered Species Day, we’d like to highlight some of the animals in our care that are a part of the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s (AZA) Species Survival Plans (SSPs).
At the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre, we are involved with many conservation and protection programs such as the Oregon spotted frog breeding program, to list one of many. But, it’s not often we get to talk about the animals at the Aquarium that are closely monitored by the AZA’s Species Survival Plans.
SSPs are cooperative programs between the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Certified Related Facilities and Sustainability Partners with a mission to manage specific and typically threatened or endangered species population. This program ensures breeding is done properly to maintain genetic diversity and to sustain a healthy and demographically varied population in accredited AZA facilities. Many of the animals that fall under SSP programs cannot be introduced into the wild at this current time due to the poor health of their native habitats.
Here are some fun facts about the species at the Aquarium participating in SSPs.
Freshwater stingrays are native to the rivers of South America. Like many ray species, they often bury themselves in soft substrates, with only the eyes visible. Like other stingrays, they have venomous barbs at the base of their tails, and are dangerous to humans. It is said that the natives of South America fear the stingray more than they do the piranha.
Zebra sharks are usually found in the warmer coastal waters and around tropical coral reefs in the Indian and South Pacific oceans. Zebra sharks can be identified by the yellow spots on their back, they also swim with exaggerated eel-like movements. When the baby zebra sharks hatch they’re nearly half a meter long.
Panamanian Golden Frog
Golden frogs live at high elevation and are montane cloud-forest dwellers. The sounds of waterfalls and fast flowing water overpower their weak vocalizations so, the males engage in charming hand waving rituals (semaphoring) as a replacement to the typical courting behaviour of calling. Young frogs are an amazing green and black colour, quite a contrast to the bright yellow colour found in adults that is their namesake.
The scarlet ibis inhabits tropical South America and islands of the Caribbean. Their heavy diet of red crustaceans gradually produces their virtually all-scarlet coloration when they’re mature. Though it spends most of its time on foot or wading through water, the bird is a very strong flyer – easily capable of long-distance flight.
Two-toed sloths have two fingers in their hands and three toes in their feet. They spend most of their lives hanging upside down from trees and cannot walk, so they pull hand-over-hand to move around. Their fur grows greenish algae to blend in with the leaves in the trees they live in, which is their main source of protection.
Goeldi’s monkeys are small, South American New World monkeys that lives in the upper Amazon. Unlike other New World monkeys, they have the capacity to give birth twice a year and the mother carries a single baby monkey per pregnancy. For the first few weeks the mother acts as the primary caregiver until the father takes over most of the responsibilities except for nursing.
Beluga whales live in the Arctic and sub-Arctic waters of the world. Belugas are a brownish-grey colour when they’re born, as they age their skin loses pigments cells which causes them to turn white. They make such an array of sounds that nineteenth century sailors and explorers named them “sea canaries.” Belugas are well insulated, as much as 40 per cent of their body weight is blubber.
The African Penguin is the only penguin species that breeds in Africa, and it is found nowhere else. They are monogamous birds — with mates returning to each other on the same beach and nest site year after year. They have bare skin patches above their eyes that turn pink when the penguin gets hot, it’s a way for them to cool off.
The Vancouver Aquarium is proud to work closely with our SSP partners around the world to educate the public about these animals that fall under the AZA Species Survival Plan. We will continue to do research with these animals in hopes to directly affect the conservation of these animals in the wild. During your next visit to the Aquarium, see if you can spot some of these unique creatures and ask us questions to find out what type of everyday actions you can take to help protect them.