Accreditation FAQs

What is accreditation?
Accreditation is the establishment and maintenance of professional standards and the qualitative evaluation of organizations in the light of those standards.  Through this process, a profession is judged based on standards and best practices established by experts within that profession.
What is the definition of a zoological park or aquarium?
For the purposes of AZA’s accreditation program, a zoological park or aquarium is defined as a permanent institution which owns and maintains wildlife, under the direction of a professional staff, provides its animals with appropriate care and exhibits them in an aesthetic manner to the public on a regularly scheduled, predictable basis.  The institution, division, or section shall further be defined as having as a core mission the exhibition, conservation, and preservation of the earth’s fauna in an educational and scientific manner.
Are international institutions eligible for AZA accreditation?
Yes, institutions located outside the United States may apply for accreditation under the same rules and standards as those located within the United States.
What percentage of zoos and aquariums are accredited by AZA?
Of the approximately 2,800 animal exhibitors licensed by the USDA across the country, less than 10% are AZA-accredited.
How can I tell if an institution is accredited by AZA?
Look for the logo! The AZA logo is the easiest, most reliable way to choose zoos and aquariums that meet our rigorous accreditation standards. You can look for the “Accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums” logo on websites, advertisements and at the gates of any institution you visit. A list of our accredited institutions can also be found here.
When was the first institution accredited by AZA?
The first institution was accredited in 1974.
How often must an institution be re-accredited?
There is no such thing as re-accreditation through AZA. Because zoos and aquariums are constantly evolving and standards are continuously being raised, each institution is required to go through the entire accreditation application process every five years in order to retain their accreditation.
What are performance standards?
Performance standards measure the level of achievement considered acceptable to fulfill a performance characteristic, and choice in method for meeting the end goal.  This differs from engineering standards, where exact and precisely measured steps are required to fulfill an engineering characteristic, with little or no variation in method for meeting the end goal.
Who can I contact about concerns related to non-accredited institutions?
Since federal and state laws do not require that all operations holding wildlife be accredited by AZA, we have no jurisdiction over non-AZA institutions. However, all operations that exhibit animals to the public must be licensed by the USDA/Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), and must provide minimum basic care under the Animal Welfare Act. If this is not the case, the USDA has the power to shut them down. If you have a complaint about a non-accredited institution you should contact the USDA. You can also try contacting local and state agencies, such as the Humane Society, that may be able to help register your complaint.
How is the Accreditation Commission appointed?
The Accreditation Commission consists of a Chairperson and eleven Commissioners who serve up to two three-year terms. Several advisors are also appointed to serve single three-year terms, without vote. The AZA President-Elect makes appointments to the Accreditation Commission and selects the Chair and Vice-Chair. Only Professional Fellows who meet the required criteria are eligible for appointment to the Commission.
How long does the application process take?
It can take six months or more to prepare the accreditation application and another six months to complete the accreditation process.
What is the role of the Visiting Committee?
The Visiting Committee, consisting of 2-4 members, inspects the facility using the application materials and accreditation standards as a guide. The purpose of the inspection is to evaluate animal care, welfare and management, veterinary care, physical facilities, safety, security, finance, staff, governing authority, support organization, involvement in education, conservation and research, and adherence to AZA policies. The team spends 2-4 days performing the inspection and then generates a list of concerns and a detailed report for the Accreditation Commission.
What possible actions can be taken by the Accreditation Commission?

There are three possible actions the Commission may take following an accreditation hearing: grant accreditation, table accreditation, or deny accreditation. 

The Commission will grant accreditation when it is reasonably satisfied that the applicant institution meets all AZA standards. 

The Commission may grant provisional accreditation to an institution if it determines that certain conditions must be met or additional information submitted before the institution can be considered as meeting accreditation standards. In addition, the Commission must believe the institution is capable of meeting those standards within one year, and a follow-up inspection is required at the end of that year. If an accredited institution is provisionally accredited, it remains accredited during the provisional period, although such a decision is indicative that concerns exist.  At the end of the provisional year the institution will either be granted accreditation or denied; provisional accreditation is no longer an option. 

Similarly, the Commission may table a newly applying institution’s application if it determines that certain conditions must be met or additional information submitted before the institution can be considered as meeting accreditation standards. Once the institution believes the issues have been fully addressed, a follow-up inspection will take place. The commission will then determine whether to accredit or deny the institution; tabling will no longer be an option.

The Commission will deny accreditation when an institution does not meet accreditation standards at the time and, in its opinion, requires in excess of one year to successfully do so. The earliest time that institutions denied accreditation may reapply is one year after the date of denial (assuming all identified concerns have been sufficiently addressed). Denial of accreditation shall result in loss of AZA membership for institutions that are AZA-accredited at the time. The Commission may rescind accreditation from an AZA-accredited institution at any time if it fails to maintain AZA standards.

What is required of the institution following the inspection?

At the end of the on-site inspection, the Director/CEO is left with a list of major and lesser concerns. The institution is required to submit to the Commission a written response to this list of concerns, along with documentation, to show progress made on addressing each item of concern. It is then mandatory for the Director/CEO to appear in person at a hearing in front of the Accreditation Commission to answer questions and to make any statements desired. If accreditation is granted, the institution is expected to continuously advance its professional operation and constantly maintain, or surpass, all professional standards.

Are pre-accreditation evaluations available?

The Commission does not conduct “pre-accreditation” inspections. However, the Commission does recognize the desire of some institutions to have their operations evaluated prior to making application. If an institution is already AZA-accredited, the facility may contact the Accreditation Department to request assignment of a “mentor.” For facilities that are not currently AZA-accredited, we strongly recommend enrollment in AZA’s Pathway Toward Membership Program. This program offers a host of benefits, including the assignment of an official Accreditation Coach who is tasked with visiting the facility and providing support prior to and during the accreditation application process. Both coaches and mentors are professionals from an AZA-accredited institution who serve as inspectors, Accreditation Commissioners (past or present) or Accreditation Commission Advisors (past or present), and are well versed in accreditation standards and fundamental AZA philosophies.

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