From the Desk of Dan Ashe

AZA Announces Inspectors of the Year

What does it take to be an AZA accreditation inspector?

AZA’s rigorous accreditation process includes an on-site inspection by a team of experts within the zoo and aquarium profession. This helps assure our member facilities are meeting the highest standards in animal welfare and care, conservation, education, safety and security, scientific advancement, and many other areas important to running a quality facility. Serving as an accreditation inspector is not an easy job, but these volunteers are critically important to the integrity of the accreditation process. The enormous amount of time and effort required in preparing for and performing these inspections is astronomical. Over 200 individuals volunteer their time as inspectors each year, some of which volunteer multiples times each year. Each inspection team consists of at least three individuals with diverse backgrounds. Accreditation inspectors are members of AZA who are high-level experts in their field, and specialize in zoo operations, veterinary medicine, and animal husbandry, care, and welfare.

The accreditation on-site inspection is comprehensive, covering multiple days during which inspectors evaluate every aspect of an institution. Inspectors commit several months to the inspection process as a whole, which begins with reviewing application materials and culminates in supplying recommendations to the Accreditation Commission. Inspectors must be meticulous, detail-orientated, and unbiased. In addition to having professional expertise and sufficient experience, inspectors must be willing to follow instructions, study hard in advance, allow sufficient time and have sufficient patience to inspect, be capable of making tough decisions if necessary, remain impartial, and maintain complete confidentiality. Our work would not be possible without these dedicated individuals.

The Inspector of the Year Award, first presented in 2003, originated as a means of recognizing AZA accreditation inspectors who, throughout their years of service, have donated their time to a large number of inspections, and/or whose work has consistently been of exceptional quality. Each year, we honor three inspectors who have gone above and beyond the strenuous requirements for serving as an accreditation inspector.

The 2019 Inspectors of the Year are:

Animal Management/Husbandry:  David Hagan, Curator, Indianapolis Zoo

Image of David Hagan

For three decades, David Hagan has had a remarkable impact on the Indianapolis Zoo.  As Curator, he is responsible for the African plains and animal encounters biomes, which includes all bird and felid species at the zoo.  David’s lifelong love of animals began as a child when he joined an explorer scout post at the Louisville Zoo.  There, he was able to volunteer in the animal department, which led to years of volunteer service at Louisville Zoo through high school and college.  David received his degree in Biology from Eastern Kentucky University.  His first full-time position was as an animal keeper at the Indianapolis Zoo.  Over the years, he has held various positions with increasing responsibility, and he has overseen almost all areas within the zoo.  He has developed a strong interest in animal care and welfare, exhibit design, education, research and conservation.  David is experienced in the care of a wide variety of animals, but has worked the longest with elephants.  He has been involved in numerous elephant research activities, including data gathering on memory, visual acuity, cognition, physiology, and behavior. David has contributed to notable reproductive research that has resulted in six African elephant calf births through artificial insemination.  He has also assisted in the design, development, construction and opening of multiple exhibits.  David has participated as an accreditation inspector for many years, and is active in several AZA animal programs.  He currently serves as the Elephant TAG Vice-Chair, African Elephant SSP Coordinator and a member of the Lion SSP management group.

Veterinary: Shirley Yeo Llizo, VMD, Zoo Veterinarian, Topeka Zoo

Image of Shirley Yeo Llizo

Dr. Shirley Yeo Llizo developed her love and interest for wildlife at a very young age, growing up in Singapore where the family residence was adjacent to a jungle rich in wildlife.  She worked at the Singapore Zoo after high school before moving to the United States to pursue higher education at the University Of Pennsylvania School Of Veterinary Medicine. There,  she joined the school’s AQUAVET program.  During that time Dr. Llizo also gained experience at several zoos, including the London Zoo, Whipsnade Zoo, Wildlife Conservation Society and Philadelphia Zoo.  Shortly after graduation, she returned to Singapore to work as the Head Veterinarian at the Singapore Zoo, where she was part of the committee that developed the current Night Safari.  Since returning to the United States, Dr. Llizo has worked at the Houston Zoo where she served as the Red-capped Mangebey SSP Veterinary Advisor, and she currently serves as the Zoo Veterinarian at the Topeka Zoo & Conservation Center.  She has served as an AZA accreditation inspector since 2003, and finds that to be a rewarding and enriching experience.      

Operations: Greg Charbeneau, Vice President/General Manager, OdySea Aquarium

Image of Greg Charbeneau

Greg Charbeneau is the Vice President and General Manager at OdySea Aquarium, where he oversees operations at OdySea in the Desert in Scottsdale, Arizona.  Greg was responsible for the establishment of the Southwest’s largest public aquarium and participates in the development and management of other projects within the overarching company.  He worked his way through the ranks on the animal side of the profession while learning the business aspects which led him to his current position.  Greg has worked at multiple nationally acclaimed aquariums, theme parks, and resorts throughout his 32 year career.  He has managed both established, complex operations and large start-up operations.  Mr. Charbeneau is an active participant in various conservation and education initiatives and has served as an AZA accreditation inspector since 2011. 

We owe a debt of gratitude to every volunteer accreditation inspector and to our member zoos and aquariums that support their participation. We appreciate your continued dedication to both our program and our profession. Many thanks to all of the accreditation inspectors who served during the most recent accreditation cycle. If you are interested in serving as an inspector, please visit:

Posted by Ashley Jones at 8:00 AM

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