Species Survival Plans (SSPs)
Species Survival Plans® (SSPs) are management programs that help ensure the survival of selected species in zoos and aquariums, most of which are threatened or endangered in the wild. Scientists and collaborating experts develop breeding plans to help protect the genetic variation of a species and maintain healthy, self-sustaining populations in human care. All SSPs work under the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA).
The Bonobo SSP
The Bonobo SSP® was founded by the Zoological Society of Milwaukee’s Dr. Gay Reinartz in 1988, when bonobos first arrived at the Milwaukee County Zoo. The Milwaukee County Zoo is home to several species that have special Species Survival Plans.
Our Bonobo SSP Objectives
The Bonobo SSP is currently chaired by Audra Meinelt at the Columbus Zoo, and there are seven other facilities in the U.S. that are members of the SSP. The Zoological Society of Milwaukee’s conservation programs coordinator is the secretary to the SSP, and the Society remains committed to the following SSP goals:
- Ensure the genetic diversity and demographic health of captive bonobos. Work in tandem with the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) to manage bonobos globally.
- Advance the care and social well-being of captive bonobos.
- Conduct and facilitate research to help learn more about bonobo care and conservation.
- Educate the public about bonobos, their natural history, and conservation status.
- Collaborate with other organizations that study and conserve wild and captive bonobos.
Bonobo SSP Participating Organizations
All institutions, with the exception of one research facility, housing bonobos in North America are members of the Bonobo SSP. Bonobos are not common in zoos. As of 2020, approximately 90 bonobos live in seven zoological institutions in the U.S.; approximately 120 bonobos live in European zoos. In contrast, there are more than 2,000 chimpanzees and 350 gorillas in the U.S. alone. Therefore, to create a healthy, growing population, genetic management is a critical component of this SSP to ensure long-term survival in captivity.
North American institutions that house bonobos and are members of the Bonobo SSP:
Learn More About Bonobos
Bonobos, along with chimpanzees, are our closest relative – we share 98.7% of our DNA with this great ape! This endangered great ape lives only in the central rainforests of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Bonobos play an important ecological role in the rainforest by dispersing seeds in their feces that pass through their system from the food that they eat. They also act as nature’s landscapers by preferring to eat certain bows and leaves, which helps to regenerate pockets of the rainforest. However, much is unknown about this social primate, including how many are left in the wild. It is estimated that between 20,000 and 50,000 bonobos remain. The main threats to the bonobo are hunting for bushmeat and habitat loss due to forest logging and agricultural development.
Bonobos are matriarchal, which means that the females are in charge! Young female bonobos are also the ones to leave their natal (family) group upon sexual maturity – unlike chimpanzees and gorillas. For more than 20 years, the Zoological Society operated the Bonobo & Congo Biodiversity Initiative to bolster wild bonobo populations and learn more about their ecological importance in the Salonga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Bonobo Human Connection
The Zoological Society currently supports research efforts to learn more about bonobo health through the Great Ape Heart Project. Because of our genetic similarities, research scientists study their neurology to learn more about human development and our evolution. Researchers acknowledge how important bonobos are to learning more about ourselves by studying bonobo tool use, social interaction, and genetics. Bonobos are extremely intelligent and playful, and there is still so much we don’t know about them!
How You Can Help the Bonobos!
Raise awareness of the plight of the bonobo and the main threats they face in the wild: poaching for bushmeat, deforestation for palm oil, and climate change. To learn more about this endangered species, visit their listing on the IUCN Red List. Purchase a one-of-a-kind bonobo painting with proceeds going toward bonobo conservation!
The Zoological Society of Milwaukee is proud to share with you paintings by the bonobos at the Milwaukee County Zoo. These one-of-a-kind paintings are now available for purchase! By purchasing one of these pieces, you not only receive a genuine piece of artwork created by an endangered ape, but you are also supporting bonobo conservation efforts in the field. The bonobos’ keeper, Stacy Whitaker, says that having apes paint pictures enriches their daily lives and is one of the many ways to ensure that bonobos stay happy and healthy.
We currently have finger paintings in a variety of colors and sizes. All of the pieces come matted, framed, and with a small gold-tone plate that includes the name and age of the bonobo artist, our organization name, and the year the painting was produced. Prices vary according to the size of the print. Please contact the Conservation Department at firstname.lastname@example.org or 414-276-0339 to find out about pricing and painting availability. All proceeds go directly to bonobo conservation to ensure the survival of bonobo populations in the wild. Thank you for your interest in and support of bonobo conservation!