AZA maintains two credentialing programs: Accreditation (for Institutional members), and Certification (for Related Facility members).   

Certification and accreditation are both defined as 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 criteria selected by its own members, rather than an outside agency.

In developing its certification and accreditation programs, AZA has been especially concerned with the need for assuring the highest standards of animal management and husbandry, while also focusing on animal management for conservation, education, scientific inquiries, and guest services.

Certification vs. Accreditation (Related Facilities vs. Institutions)

Related Facilities are expected to achieve and maintain or surpass the same standards as Institutional members. The Related Facility membership category requires that each facility be inspected and certified before AZA membership can begin, or continue.  The inspection and review process falls under the authority of the Accreditation Commission, but Related Facilities are not considered accredited.  They are referred to as AZA-certified.  Like accreditation, certification is required every five years.

The certification process is very similar to the accreditation process, with subtle differences. In addition to not being open to the public on a regular basis, Related Facilities typically have slight differences in mission and scope from zoological parks or aquariums. However, Related Facilities must have conservation as part of their mission, and the overall mission must be aligned with AZA’s. Related Facilities are bound by AZA’s Code of Ethics, policies, and standards, just like accredited institutions.  When evaluating a Related Facility applicant, the Accreditation Commission and the inspection team use the accreditation standards as a basis for judgment. Most Related Facilities would not be evaluated for exhibit (or enclosure) aesthetics and design, but would be evaluated on such issues as enclosure size and furniture; enrichment items and programs; whether physical, social, and psychological needs are being met, acquisition, transfer, euthanasia and reintroduction practices, etc.  Related Facilities that occasionally host a small number of visitors by appointment only need not have an education program. However, facilities that have a regular flow of public visitors and/or school groups (whether by appointment or not) should strive to have an education program, and that program should strive to meet accreditation standards.  Like Accredited Institutions, Certified Related Facilities are expected to embrace modern zoological practices and philosophies as basic tenets.

Basic Definitions

The certification program is intended for those facilities that hold wildlife, but do not meet the definition of a zoological park or aquarium.   Only facilities meeting or exceeding the definition of a related facility should apply for certification.  

For the purposes of AZA’s certification program, the Related Facility membership category is defined as: organizations holding wildlife that are not commercial entities, and are not open to the public on a regularly scheduled, predictable basis.  The facility shall be under the direction of a professional staff trained in animal husbandry, and shall be further defined as having conservation and preservation as part of its mission—a mission that shall have a beneficial, tangible, supportive impact on the zoological and aquarium professions.  This includes wildlife ranches, wildlife refuges or rehab centers, research facilities, survival centers, conservation support facilities, and/or similar organizations.

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 regular basis.  The institution, division, or section shall further be defined as having as their primary mission the exhibition, conser­vation, and preservation of the earth’s fauna in an educational and scientific manner.


If uncertain as to which category a facility may or may not apply, contact the Accreditation Department for clarification.

I Accept

This site uses cookies to offer you a better browsing experience. If you continue using our website, we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies on this website and you agree to our Privacy Policy.