AZA News Releases

Smithsonian's National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute Director Dennis Kelly Sworn-In as Chair of the Board at Association of Zoos and Aquariums

Photo of Past AZA Board Chair Dennis Pate (left) and AZA Chair of the Board Dennis Kelly (right)

Past Chair of the AZA Board of Directors Dennis Pate (left) presents Chair of the Board Dennis Kelly (right) with a gavel to officially mark the beginning of his term



Silver Spring, Maryland – The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) is announcing the swearing-in of Dennis Kelly, Director of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, as the new Chair of the AZA Board of Directors.

“Dennis’s extensive experience in working for the Smithsonian’s National Zoo--a world-renowned, science-driven zoological facility--combined with his passion for saving species, are essential assets he will bring to his leadership of the AZA Board of Directors,” said AZA Interim President and CEO Kris Vehrs. “His expertise in strategic planning and organizational development will be called upon often next year as AZA welcomes a new president and CEO.”

As Chair of the Board, Kelly, along with three other executive officers and nine Board members, will be involved in every aspect of the national organization, including accreditation, ethics, animal welfare, and conservation. Each year, AZA’s 232 accredited facilities collectively contribute $160 million to field conservation projects that help to protect species across the world, serve more than 186 million visitors, welcome more than 12 million students on educational field trips, contribute $17.4 billion to the U.S. economy and support 176,000 jobs.

“I am honored to serve as the chair of the AZA Board of Directors, said Dennis Kelly. “In a world where animals are at risk of vanishing to extinction, zoos and aquariums are a safe haven from poaching, habitat loss, climate change and disease. As important, AZA-accredited aquariums and zoos are contributing almost $200 million annually to conservation of wild animals, a number that will grow in the future. I look forward to working on behalf of AZA zoos to raise awareness of our industry’s critical role in conservation and inspiring visitors to protect wildlife.”

Throughout his 35+ years of professional experience in the not-for-profit, for-profit and government service worlds, Kelly has held positions in general management, marketing, finance, operations and engineering. Kelly was elected to the AZA board of directors in 2011 and most recently served as the vice chair. He has also served on the AZA Branding and Identity Project advisory group, the Trends Committee and the Safety Special Committee. Kelly earned a bachelor’s degree from the Georgia Institute of Technology and a master’s degree from Harvard University and is a veteran of the United States Army.

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 eight 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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