Meeting virtually, the Commission conducts hearings, announces one-year stay for all AZA members in wake of COVID-19.
Silver Spring, MD – In early March, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums announced the cancellation of its Mid-Year Meeting due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. The meeting, which was to be held in Palm Springs, Calif., is one of two times per year when the AZA Accreditation Commission meets to review applications for accreditation and certification as a related facility. Recognizing the rigors of undertaking the process of becoming accredited by AZA, the Commission decided to meet virtually and conduct the hearings for 23 applicants. The following facilities were granted accreditation, including two new facilities:
Importantly, with the addition of Atlantis, The Palm, AZA has added the 13th country to its membership roster, and the fourth in three years following the addition of Spain, the Dominican Republic, and South Korea in previous accreditation cycles.
“To say this accreditation cycle is unprecedented would be an understatement,” said Dan Ashe, President and CEO of AZA. “COVID-19 and the necessary precautions associated with the virus have temporarily closed nearly all of AZA’s members in the United States. Abiding by our accreditation standards is an everyday proposition, however, and we want to recognize the significant achievement of these facilities.”
Each facility underwent a thorough review to make sure it has and will continue to meet ever-rising standards, which emphasize animal welfare and care, veterinary programs, conservation, education, and safety. AZA requires facilities to complete this rigorous accreditation process every five years to be members of the Association.
The accreditation process includes a detailed application and a meticulous on-site multiple-day inspection by an independent team of trained zoological professionals. The inspecting team observes all aspects of the facility’s operation, including animal welfare and well-being; veterinary care; keeper training; safety for visitors, staff, and animals; educational programs; conservation efforts; financial stability; risk management; governance; and guest services. Detailed reports from the inspection team and the facility alike are then thoroughly evaluated by the Commission. Finally, top officials are interviewed in person by the Accreditation Commission at a formal hearing, after which accreditation is granted, tabled, or denied.
AZA accreditation signifies a facility is meeting or exceeding the ‘gold standard’ for zoological facilities, as well as making significant contributions to conservation of species at their facility and in the wild,” said Dr. Christopher Kuhar, Executive Director of Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and chair of the AZA Board of Directors. “AZA members are conservation organizations that seek to educate the next generation about the importance of protecting and preserving our natural world. Even in these times when most zoos and aquariums are closed, AZA members are continuing to find ways to make sure people can appreciate animals and nature.
Taking necessary health precautions is what has also pushed AZA to take the unprecedented step of granting currently accredited AZA members a one-year extension in their accreditation status. For example, if a facility is up for accreditation in September 2020, they will now be up for accreditation in September 2021.
“Out of an abundance of caution, we have decided to postpone accreditation inspections for currently accredited AZA members,” said Jeff Wyatt, DVM, DACLAM, Environmental Justice Advocate at the Seneca Park Zoo and chair of the AZA Accreditation Commission. “We need our members focused on providing the best care possible for their animals, while also assuring the health and safety of their staff. We could not, in good conscience, send our volunteer inspectors out facing so much uncertainty.”
The Commission will continue to review all concerns raised about AZA members, including conducting onsite inspections if necessary.
There are currently 240 AZA-accredited facilities and 15 AZA-certified related facility members throughout the U.S. and in 12 other countries. For a complete list of currently accredited AZA-facilities, please visit https://www.aza.org/current-accreditation-list.
Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, animal welfare, education, science, and recreation. AZA is the accrediting body for the top zoos and aquariums in the United States and 12 other countries. Look for the AZA accreditation logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. The AZA is a leader in saving species and your link to helping animals all over the world. To learn more, visit www.aza.org.
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