Code of Professional Ethics
Originally adopted by the AZA Board of Directors September 1976, amended March 2017
Preamble to the Code of Professional Ethics
Our profession is based on respect for the dignity of the animals in our care, the people we serve, and our fellow professionals and volunteers. Members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums ("AZA") have an important role in the preservation of the species on our planet. To fulfill this evolving role, we must have strong relationships with the public, the animals under our care, and with each other. A consequent obligation of membership is to maintain the highest degree of ethical conduct. Members must display at all times the courage and foresight to act with professionalism in dealing with animals in their care and with their fellow human beings.
With actions guided by these principles, ours will continue to be a highly respected profession.
Code of Professional Ethics
The following Code of Professional Ethics of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) shall form the basis for all disciplinary actions of the Association.
Deviation by a member from the AZA Code of Professional Ethics or from any of the rules officially adopted by the Board of Directors supplemental thereto, or any action by a member that is detrimental to the best interest of the zoo and aquarium profession and the AZA, shall be considered unethical conduct. The member shall be subject to investigation by the AZA Ethics Board and, if warranted, to disciplinary action by the Ethics Board and/or the AZA Board of Directors. The Code is intended as an inspirational guide for members and as a basis for disciplinary action.
This Code cannot apply to nonmembers, except as they have agreed to follow the Code in a signed agreement to participate in an AZA program. This Code defines the type of ethical conduct the public has a right to expect, not only of staff members of an institution but also of their nonprofessional employees and associates in all matters pertaining to professional zoological park and aquarium employment. The director and/or governing authority of a member institution should ultimately be responsible for the conduct of their employees and others affiliated with the member institution.
The Obligations of Professional Ethics set forth are aspirational in character and represent the objectives towards which every member should strive.
The Code's Mandatory Standards, unlike the Obligations of Professional Ethics, are mandatory in character and, if violated, may result in disciplinary action. The Mandatory Standards, to be uniformly applied to all members, establish a level of conduct below which no member may fall without being subject to disciplinary action. The Code makes no attempt to prescribe either disciplinary procedures or penalties for violation of Mandatory Standards. The severity of judgment against a member found to be in violation of a Mandatory Standard shall be determined by the character of the offense and the attendant circumstances. The Ethics Board, in applying the Mandatory Standards, may find interpretive guidance in the basic principles embodied in the standards and objectives reflected in the Obligations of Professional Ethics.
The Board of Directors and Ethics Board shall be responsible for interpreting the Code of Professional Ethics, subject to all provisions of the Charter and Bylaws. The Ethics Board shall investigate allegations, render decisions, and prescribe subsequent actions and/or penalties. An appeal may be made to the AZA Executive Committee within thirty (30) days of the date of transmitting the Ethics Board decision to the complainant and defendant. Appeals may be granted if the Executive Committee concludes that the complainant or defendant appealing the Ethics Board decision has demonstrated that (1) there are new facts, not known at the time of the Ethics Board investigation, which the Executive Committee believes may have changed the outcome; or (2) the Ethics Board did not follow relevant AZA procedures; or (3) the penalty recommended by the Ethics Board was excessive under the circumstances. An appeal shall be granted upon a majority vote of the AZA Executive Committee. If the request for an appeal is granted, the Board of Directors shall hear the appeal at its next regularly scheduled meeting. The appellate decision of the Board of Directors shall be final and cannot be appealed.
I. Obligations of Professional Ethics
In order to promote high standards of conduct in our profession, the AZA has formulated the following basic principles for the guidance of its members:
A member of the AZA must:
- Recognize the moral responsibilities of the individual and the institution not only to our professional associates, fellow employees and volunteers, and the public, but also to the animals under our care.
- Display the highest integrity, the best judgment or ethics possible, and use of professional skills to the best interests of all.
- Deal fairly with members in the dissemination of professional information and advice.
- Use only legal and ethical means when seeking to influence governmental legislation or regulations.
- Promote the interests of wildlife conservation, biodiversity, and animal welfare to the public and to colleagues.
- Maintain high standards of personal, professional, and business conduct and behavior.
- Promote the interests of AZA and fully share in the work in support of the concepts and ideals of AZA.
- Cooperate with qualified zoos/aquariums and other qualified persons/organizations in breeding programs of endangered and other species.
- Aid the professional development of those who enter the zoological park and aquarium profession by assisting them to understand the functions, duties, and responsibilities of the profession.
- Seek opportunities to be of constructive service in civic affairs and, advance the understanding of all nature to the community.
- Encourage publication of significant achievements in breeding husbandry, medical technology, architecture, etc., in the appropriate publications generally familiar to members.
- Endeavor at all times to improve zoos and aquariums.
II. Mandatory Standards
1. Maintaining Integrity and Competence of the Zoological Park and Aquarium Profession
- A member shall make no materially false statement or deliberately fail to disclose a material fact in connection with an application for membership or accreditation in AZA.
- A member shall not violate a Mandatory Standard.
- A member shall not solicit the aid of another individual to circumvent, or assist another to violate, a Mandatory Standard.
- A member shall not knowingly engage in activities contrary to local, state, federal, or international laws as such laws relate to our profession; and a member will, to the best of his or her ability, cooperate with governmental agencies regulating animal welfare and animal transactions.
- A member shall not engage in conduct that adversely affects, or is prejudicial to, the concepts and ideals of the AZA.
- A member shall make every effort to assure that all animals in his/her collection and under his/her care are disposed of in a manner which meets the current disposition standards of the Association and do not find their way into the hands of those not qualified to care for them properly.
3. Disclosure of Information
- A member shall not knowingly misinform others regarding animal records or specimen disposition, professional information, and advice.
- A member shall not alter animal records or alter the facts concerning age, condition, or other material information about any animal in order to affect the sale, trade, loan, or other transaction with respect to such animal.
- A member shall immediately bring to the attention of the Ethics Board of the AZA any information concerning a clear violation of a Mandatory Standard.
- A member shall issue no statement to the public which he/she knows (or should know) to be false or misleading.
The policies outlined below have been previously adopted by the AZA Board of Directors and are considered to expand the interpretation of the AZA Code of Professional Ethics that was developed to guide ethical conduct of all members. Amendments can be proposed by the AZA Board of Directors, the Ethics Board, and/or AZA members. Any proposed changes shall be reviewed by the Ethics Board and, as appropriate, by legal counsel. Proposed changes shall be submitted to the AZA Board of Directors for action.
Animal Auctions (1981)
AZA members offering wildlife for sale at auctions attended by the general public are in violation of the AZA Code of Professional Ethics, specifically Mandatory Standards, 2-e, which states, "As a member of AZA, I pledge to...make every effort to assure that all animals...do not find their way into the hands of those not qualified to care for them properly.”
Use of Animal Exchange (1984)
Individuals may utilize Animal Exchange to purchase specimens if the following criteria are followed: the individual should, during the initial contact, identify his or her intentions and make the seller aware if the specimen(s) will go to the purchaser's private collection and not the zoo in question (adopted by the Ethics Board at the direction of the AZA Board).
Notification of Ethics Code Violations (1986; revised 1993)
Copies of all final actions (the denial of an appeal to the Executive Committee or notification to the complainant and defendant of the appellate decision) regarding violations of the Code of Professional Ethics shall be sent to the Director, Chief Executive Officer, or Governing Authority of the institution of the defendant(s) involved. Such final actions shall be published in Communique, including a brief and factual statement of the action, including the name(s) of the defendant(s) involved in the violation and a listing of the sections of the Code which were violated to provide guidance for AZA members.
Procurement of SSP Animals (1986; modified 1990: revised 1993)
Attempts by members to circumvent AZA conservation programs in the procurement and/or disposition of specimens of SSP animals are detrimental to the Association and its conservation programs. Such action may be detrimental to the species involved and could be construed as a violation of the Association's Code of Professional Ethics. All Association members should work through SSP coordinators and appropriate propagation groups in efforts to procure or dispose of specimens of SSP species.
The Ethics Board, elected by the membership, has separate duties from the AZA Board of Directors. The Ethics Board shall consist of nine (9) members. The Ethics Board proposed guidelines on the function of the Ethics Board for consideration during the San Diego Annual Conference in 1977. The AZA Board of Directors unanimously adopted these guidelines and revised them in 1993:
- All Ethics Board matters shall be handled in accordance with the objectives and standards of the Association's Code of Professional Ethics.
- Matters called to the attention of the Ethics Board must be in writing and addressed to the Chair or any member of the Ethics Board. The ethics charge must be signed by the complainant and must contain a full statement of the matter to be reviewed by the Ethics Board.
- An individual filing an ethics complaint shall be advised that full disclosure of the complaint shall be made available to all parties concerned. At this time, the complainant has the right to withdraw the complaint; and thus, the matter will be closed.
- The Ethics Board, the complainant, and the defendant shall at all times during the investigation maintain strict confidentiality regarding the case.
- The initial responsibility of the Ethics Board is to determine the validity of the charge(s). If the charge(s) appears to be valid, the Ethics Board shall initiate a full investigation. Once a full investigation is initiated, the Ethics Board must determine if an Ethics Code violation has occurred and what action and/or penalty is necessary. In making its determination, the Ethics Board shall consult, where necessary or appropriate, with AZA legal counsel. The Ethics Board has the responsibility and authority to issue a judgment and determine disciplinary actions. The AZA Board of Directors serves as an appellate board.
- The AZA Board of Directors may also direct the Ethics Board to perform additional duties as needed.
The following procedures are hereby established:
- The Chair of the Ethics Board will distribute copies of all duly received ethics complaints to members of the Ethics Board, the Chair of the AZA Board of Directors, the AZA President/CEO, Executive Director, and the AZA Board Liaison to the Ethics Board. All correspondence pertaining to the case shall be marked "Confidential." The Chair shall request each Ethics Board member to render an opinion as to the validity of the complaint and make a recommendation on how to proceed and action to be taken.
- The Chair shall review all recommendations, suggest an Ethics Board action and, if necessary, arrange an appearance before the Ethics Board and/or a site visitation.
- The Ethics Board may dismiss any charge for which there is insufficient evidence to pursue the investigation or for which there is no apparent violation of the Ethics Code. The complainant, defendant, and the Board of Directors shall be notified by the Ethics Board of the decision, for which there is no appeal.
The Ethics Board may determine that there is no clear violation or proof of a violation but that there is concern about the conduct of a member. The Ethics Board may issue a letter of concern.
If the Ethics Board determines that a violation of the Code has occurred, the following options shall be considered: (A) Letter of Reprimand from the Ethics Board. (B) Letter of Reprimand from the Ethics Board and the AZA Board of Directors. (C) Censorship and suspension of certain membership privileges (up to 2 years), to be determined on a case-by-case basis. (D) Expulsion from AZA membership for a minimum of two years. The Ethics Board may function as an investigative body as it determines whether or not a violation has occurred. The Ethics Board shall make its determination based upon the greater weight of the evidence presented to it. Ethics matters often do not involve legal matters but are founded on moral values and industry standards and practices. Where necessary or appropriate, the Ethics Board shall consult with AZA legal counsel.
- The Ethics Board shall deliberate, during a meeting or conference call, on the final determination and action to be taken. Actions by the Ethics Board shall require a two-thirds (2/3) vote of its members. When a two-thirds (2/3) majority vote of guilty is not received the issue shall be dropped.
The Chair of the Ethics Board shall submit a report to the Chair of the AZA Board of Directors, AZA President/CEO, AZA Executive Director, and the AZA Board Liaison to the Ethics Board, and legal counsel, if necessary, with the Ethics Board's findings and course of disciplinary action to be taken prior to advising the complainant and defendant.
The Chair of the Ethics Board shall advise the complainant and the defendant in writing of the findings and action taken by the Ethics Board. If the complaint is filed against an AZA-accredited Institution of against the Director of the Institution the Chair shall send a written copy of the substance of the findings and action to the principal officer of the Institution's governing board. If the complaint is filed against a member of the staff, other than the Director, a written copy of the substance of the findings and action will be sent to the Director of the Institution.
An appeal may be made to the AZA Executive Committee within thirty (30) days of the date of mailing the Ethics Board decision to the complainant and defendant. The Executive Committee must decide whether or not to grant the appeal within forty-five (45) days of its receipt and so advise the appellant. Appeals may be granted if the Executive Committee concludes that the complainant or defendant appealing the Ethics Board decision has demonstrated that (1) there are new facts, not known at the time of the Ethics Board investigation, which the Executive Committee believes may have changed the outcome; or (2) the Ethics Board did not follow relevant AZA procedures; or (3) the penalty recommended by the Ethics Board was excessive under the circumstances.
Appeals shall be granted upon a majority vote of the AZA Executive Committee. The AZA Board of Directors shall hear the appeal at its next regularly scheduled meeting. The appellate decision of the Board of Directors shall be final and cannot be appealed.
At least one member of the Ethics Board shall be present during the appeal.
The Ethics Board shall notify the complainant and the defendant of the final action of the AZA Board of Directors once the appellate decision has been rendered.