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“Dating system for animal species:” How zoos manage sustainability though matchmaking

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) – Every year across the world people flock to see baby animals at zoos.

Earlier this summer, the Milwaukee County Zoo announced the birth of a new monkey, but something many people may not realize is the planning and technology that goes into every birth.

As it turns out, matchmaking isn’t only for humans. Zoos across the world use a system, similar to a human online dating website, that analyzes the animal’s traits and personalities to find the best match, not only for the pair, but for the future of the population.

At the Milwaukee County Zoo, matchmaking is a constant process.

"We’re working on finding a new home for one of our male giraffes,” Director of Animal Management and Health Gary Lunsford said. “We recently sent out two female tigers to the zoo in Oregon for breeding up there.”

Each animal species has a Species Survival Plan or SSP, where all of the animals are tracked by who their parents are, their age and personality traits.

"It's often referred to as the online dating system for animal species," Lunsford said. “Personalities, just like with people, have an impact on the romance.”

Experts say without SSPs, the future of the animal populations would be in trouble.

“Eventually the health of the animals would start to decline over time as you have inbreeding,” Lunsford said. “Genetic diversity keeps things healthy and in good condition and sustainable for multiple generations.”

Amanda Ista is the coordinator for the Canada lynx SSP. She gave us a look at the file where all of the information on the animals is recorded.

“That’s how we make breeding and transfer plans,” she said.

Sometimes the transfers can be as close as a nearby city or as far away as another country.

“We’re always bringing in something or sending something out,” Lunsford said.

A giraffe born at the zoo this summer is the result of these breeding plans. Mom Ziggy from Disney’s Animals Kingdom in Florida was brought to Milwaukee to mate with a male giraffe at the zoo. The baby boy doesn’t have a name quite yet, but the zoo says he’s doing well.

At the Milwaukee County Zoo, 118 species have a SSP.

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