AZA News Releases

AZA Statement on AZA Accreditation Commission’s Denial of Accreditation to Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Silver Spring, MD (October 6, 2020) – Today, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) is announcing the decision by its independent Accreditation Commission (the Commission) after review of the recent inspection report on the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. In a virtual hearing held on Friday, October 1, 2021, the Commission voted to deny accreditation to the zoo. In response to the Commission’s decision, Dan Ashe, AZA President and CEO, issued the following statement:

“It is never a good day when AZA loses a member, especially one as renowned and respected as the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. But AZA membership is conditioned on adherence to our accreditation standards – the global “gold standard” for modern aquariums and zoos – and our independent Accreditation Commission has determined that Columbus has failed to uphold those standards.

“Issues of financial mismanagement have been reviewed by an independent forensic analysis and reported on in the media. Those issues alone are serious. More substantial and concerning is a long record of intentional and repeated animal transfers with non-AZA members intended to supply baby animals – mainly big cats – for entertainment purposes.

“Given the number and gravity of concerns that the inspection team identified, the Commission concluded that although Columbus is working hard to correct the issues, the zoo should not be accredited at this time.

“I am confident the leadership and Board of Directors at Columbus are taking these matters seriously, and in fact, they have already instituted significant changes. Yesterday’s news about the selection of Tom Schmid as their new President and CEO is welcome and encouraging. However, the Commission felt that additional time will be required to let these and other changes take hold.

“To the employees of Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, we acknowledge your good work. Much of the accreditation inspection report was exceedingly positive and reflective of your professionalism. We hope to see Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and you back within our community soon.

“Although we are sad at losing a member, we believe this exemplifies what distinguishes AZA accreditation, helping earn its reputation as the global ‘gold standard’ for modern zoos and aquariums. In the past five years, ten facilities have failed AZA’s accreditation process. Large and small, zoo and aquarium, internationally famous and locally loved, all AZA members are accountable to our standards. If they do not uphold them, they will not be accredited.”

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium was first accredited by AZA in 1980. Columbus Zoo now has 30 days to appeal the Commission’s decision to the AZA Executive Committee,and they have indicated they intend to do so. The Executive Committee must decide within 45 days of its receipt whether to grant the appeal. If an appeal is granted, it will be heard by the AZA Board of Directors at its next regularly scheduled meeting. The AZA Board can choose to uphold or overturn the Commission’s decision. If the denial is upheld, Columbus will be eligible to apply for AZA accreditation again in September 2022.

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 by the Accreditation Commission at a formal hearing, after which accreditation is granted, tabled, or denied.

Each facility undergoes 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.

There are currently 241 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


About AZA

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


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