AKRON  New residents have moved in at Akron Zoo thanks to the Species Survival Plan (SSP) program established in 1981 by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) to monitor the population and genetic diversity in endangered animals in AZA institutions with the aim to further conservation efforts.

New to the zoo are Biru, a male red panda, who has arrived from the Rosemond Gifford Zoo in Syarcuse, N.Y.; Padar, a male Komodo dragron, who came from the Chattanooga Zoo; Scruffy, a female sun bear, who came from the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo; and Rocky (female) and Armando (male), a breeding pair of Humboldt penguins, who arrived from Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle.

Because of this year’s warmer-than-normal winter weather, all the new residents are already on exhibit and can be visited between the zoo’s winter hours of 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

While the Humboldt penguins were matched by the SSP due to their genetic diversity and other factors, it’s a will they/won’t they breed scenario, but Akron Zoo officials are hopeful the two become companions.

"Rocky and Armando seem to be getting along well. They spend time together. There’s no way we can predict if or when they will lay an egg," said David Barnhardt, the director of marketing and public relations at Akron Zoo. "We have to wait and see. It’s no different than humans. Sometimes, we get a breeding recommendation and they are sent here and nothing happens."

With the exception of the penguins, Akron Zoo officials do not have plans for any of the new residents breed at this time. More so, these new residents moved to the zoo on recommendation from SSP to fill empty exhibits.

"It becomes very complicated," Barnhardt said. "Those meetings can go on hours and hours, trying to move animals around the country."

For example, Akron’s former red panda, Zheng, has been moved to Greenville Zoo in South Carolina to be paired with a female there since the Akron exhibit was too small for multiple red pandas. To keep the exhibit filled, the SSP moved Biru to Akron because they have no immediate plans to breed him. In late 2017 or early 2018, the Akron Zoo will start construction to expand their red panda exhibit in hopes of playing a larger part in the breeding and conservation of the pint-sized red pandas.

Charlie, a former female Komodo Dragon at the zoo, has moved to Chattanooga Zoo as part of a breeding recommendation from the SSP. Padar has filled the empty spot and, because he is male and the SSP has not given a breeding recommendation, he and the remaining female named Draco will alternate days in the habitat. Komodo Dragons are solitary and territorial by nature.

Scruffy the sun bear is replacing Keesha the sloth bear who is now residing at Zoo Miami. Scruffy is too old to breed but she appears to be getting along just fine in her new home, officials say. She has been out in her exhibit several times on days where the weather has been over 40 degrees.

Each species of animal in the SSP has a dedicated coordinator, who knows the location of every animal of that species in zoos across the country. The coordinator identifies genetically compatible partners and works to pair them up so they can help produce a genetically viable species.

Planning happens years in advance and AZA members must wait on these breeding recommendations before putting two animals together. If successful, offspring of these endangered animals can be released into the wild.

The Akron Zoo is open 361 days a year is an accredited member of the AZA. Admission is admission is $7 per person with children under two visiting for free. For more information, visit them online at www.akronzoo.org.