First, AZA carefully selects the expert Accreditation Commission members who evaluate each zoo and aquarium. These experts are leaders in their fields and have many years of experience and education in zoo and aquarium operations, animal management, and veterinary medicine. There are fifteen experts on the Accreditation Commission.
The Accreditation Commission evaluates every zoo or aquarium to make sure it meets AZA's standards for animal welfare, care, and management, including living environments, social groupings, health, and nutrition. Every animal at AZA-accredited institutions undergoes a thorough welfare assessment at least once a year. We also make sure that animals are provided with enrichment, which stimulates each animal's natural behavior and provides variety in their daily routine. The Accreditation Commission also evaluates the veterinary program, involvement in conservation and research, education programs, safety policies and procedures, security, physical facilities, guest services, and the quality of the institution's staff. And because a zoo or aquarium needs a strong foundation in order to continue to meet high standards, accreditation also evaluates each institution's finances, its governing authority, and its support organization. In other words, we look at everything!
Every candidate for accreditation fills out a detailed questionnaire which includes copies of their policies, procedures, records, lists, and reports. The application takes many months to complete and six months to study and evaluate. After the Accreditation Commission studies the application, a team of inspectors visit the zoo or aquarium in person. Each team includes at least one veterinarian along with animal and operations experts. The inspectors spend several long days at the zoo or aquarium visiting every area, interviewing staff, checking records, and assessing the welfare of the animal collection. The inspectors then write a detailed report about everything they saw and evaluated and submit it to the Accreditation Commission.
The Accreditation Commission meets monthly to evaluate incident reports, progress reports, and conduct other business. Twice a year, the Commission meets to consider all candidates for accreditation. They examine the application, the supporting documents submitted by the zoo or aquarium, the inspection team's report, and any information and comments received from outside organizations and individuals. The zoo or aquarium's senior officials must appear before the Accreditation Commission to answer questions. Finally, the Accreditation Commission decides whether or not to grant accreditation. It doesn't matter if an institution is large, small, new, or was previously accredited, all who qualify may apply, but standards are high and not every candidate receives accreditation.
AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums are constantly evolving and standards are continuously being raised. Each zoo or aquarium must keep up with these changes to remain AZA-accredited. And to prove it, they must go through the entire accreditation process every five years. AZA believes that nothing is more important than assuring the highest standards of animal welfare and care, and our accreditation process does just that!
If you have any questions please feel free to contact AZA's Accreditation Department.