As a public museum and aquarium, we have the opportunity to raise awareness about biodiversity—and to contribute to conservation efforts—in ways the public can see and enjoy. The Academy’s Steinhart Aquarium has a long history of successful participation in captive breeding programs, and hatched 836 new aquarium residents in 2013 alone. From colorful tanager hatchlings in the rainforest and tiny chameleons in African Hall, to graceful cephalopods never before bred in captivity, each has a fascinating story behind it.
In many cases, breeding is strategically coordinated through Species Survival Plans (SSPs) with other zoos and aquariums accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). An SSP aims to maintain the genetic diversity of a captive population through controlled breeding and collaborative exchange of offspring among partner institutions. African Penguins, for example (classified as endangered in the wild in 2010), are managed under a Green-level Species Survival Plan, which means that we expect to be able to maintain 90 percent genetic diversity among the captive population for at least 100 years.
In other cases, as with the critically endangered Lake Oku clawed frog, breeding in captivity is a tool not only for raising public awareness about conservation issues, but for learning basic information about the animals themselves. In 2013, Academy researchers and aquarium staff teamed up to bring a group of these animals back from Cameroon’s Lake Oku (the only lake in the world where the frogs are known to exist), and they've had success in breeding them at the Academy by closely mimicking lake conditions. In this controlled setting, researchers are able to learn about the frogs' biology, life cycle, and life history in ways that are simply not feasible via field observations—information that can help inform conservation strategies back in Cameroon.