How to Apply

AZA’s accreditation and certification programs are based on fundamental definitions of a zoological park or aquarium and related facilities.  To apply for either membership category, all facilities must: (1) operate based on philosophies and practices considered by AZA as being modern best zoological practices of the profession, (2) meet or exceed all AZA accreditation standards and adhere to all AZA policies, and (3) meet all aspects of one of the two definitions below.

For the purposes of AZA’s accreditation program, a zoological park or aquarium is defined as: a permanent institution which owns and maintains wildlife, under the direction of a professional staff, provides its animals with appropriate care and exhibits them in an aesthetic manner to the public on a regular basis.  The institution, division, or section shall further be defined as having as their primary mission the exhibition, conser­vation, and preservation of the earth’s fauna in an educational and scientific manner.

For the purposes of AZA’s certification program, the Related Facility membership category is defined as: organizations holding wildlife that are not commercial entities, and are not open to the public on a regularly scheduled, predictable basis.  The facility shall be under the direction of a professional staff trained in animal husbandry, and shall be further defined as having conservation and preservation as part of its mission—a mission that shall have a beneficial, tangible, supportive impact on the zoological and aquarium professions.  This includes wildlife ranches, wildlife refuges or rehab centers, research facilities, survival centers, conservation support facilities, and/or similar organizations

Application Deadlines

The Commission meets twice yearly [in March and September] to consider pending cases.  Institutions wishing to have their cases heard in March must submit an application by September 1.  Institutions wishing to have their cases heard in September must submit an application by March 1.  Late applications will not be accepted. 

Accredited institutions are expected to keep track of their own expiration dates and should not rely on reminders from AZA staff.


Information submitted to the Accreditation Commission by institutions as part of their accreditation or certification application is held in strict confidence, and is made available to the following individuals only: Accreditation Commissioners, Commission Advisors, Inspectors, AZA Executive Director, and AZA accreditation staff.  The AZA President & CEO and AZA Board of Directors also have access, but typically do not view the materials.  This allows an accrediting body to have access to information that might normally be restricted, so as to develop an accurate and complete understanding of each case being evaluated.

Applying For The First Time

If an applicant, or AZA, is unsure it meets the definition of a zoological park, aquarium or related facility, it is advisable to contact AZA for an assessment in advance of submitting an application.  Applications from organizations that do not meet the appropriate definition will not be accepted. 

Although optional, it is strongly recommended that first-time applicants consider enrollment in the Pathway Towards Membership program.

We also strongly encourage at least one individual on staff to join as an individual member of AZA in order to take full advantage of the many resources available, including the AZA Accreditation Resource Center.  Participation in AZA through attendance at conferences, training and/or professional development courses, and reading publications so as to thoroughly familiarize your facility with fundamental AZA philosophies, policies, and best practices is also in the best interest of first-time applicants.

Helpful Reminders For All Applicants

Some helpful things to remember when preparing to submit an accreditation or certification application include:

  • Thoroughly read the current edition of the Accreditation Standards and Related Policies.
  • Thoroughly read the current edition of the Guide to Accreditation.
  • Make sure the annual edition of the materials you use to make application matches the year in which you submit your application.
  • Follow the instructions for assembling the application as contained in the Guide to Accreditation.  Improperly assembled or incomplete applications will be returned to the applicant and may result in an inability to continue processing.
  • When completing the application be sure to answer every question and attach all required documentation.
  • If you have any questions about assembling the application or other related topics please contact the AZA accreditation staff.
  • Keep in mind that while future plans are important and are considered in the overall picture, the final decision to grant accreditation or certification will be based on what exists at the time of the inspection and final review – not on future plans.
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