Accreditation is a process by which a program, organization, or institution is evaluated by recognized experts in the profession, and is measured against the established standards and best practices of that profession. Overseeing this process in AZA is the Accreditation Commission- a group of sixteen experienced and trained experts in operations, animal welfare and husbandry, and veterinary medicine. These experts are sworn to maintain complete impartiality in their judgements and to thoroughly examine each zoo or aquarium that applies for AZA accreditation to determine if AZA standards are being met. Only those zoos and aquariums that earn AZA accreditation can become members of AZA.
In 1971, in response to the nations' growing concern for animal care in the United States, AZA appointed a committee to establish a set of best practices to collectively improve professional operations among the zoological park and aquarium community. The first institution was accredited by AZA in 1974- at that time a voluntary process. In 1985 AZA made the bold decision to place the importance of quality ahead of quantity, and made accreditation a mandatory requirement for AZA membership. Despite the resulting 75% drop in membership, AZA held firm in its decision, leading to a rise in animal husbandry and care among zoological parks and aquariums across the country as they began striving to reach the standards required for AZA membership and accreditation.
No one knows more about a profession than those who are part of it and who live it every day. AZA has been the primary accrediting body for zoos and aquariums for over 40 years. U.S. agencies such as OSHA and the USDA consider AZA standards as the “national” standard, and they refer to AZA standards when evaluating institutions. AZA’s rigorous, scientifically based and publically-available standards examine the zoo or aquarium’s entire operation, including animal welfare, veterinary care, conservation, education, guest services, physical facilities, safety, staffing, finance, and governing body. AZA standards are performance-based to allow them to be applied to a variety of different situations and cases. AZA is continuously raising its standards as science continues to learn more and more about the species in our care. Accreditation is rescinded if AZA standards are not maintained.
In addition to a very lengthy written application, AZA also requires an intense multiple-day on-site inspection, and an in-person hearing in front of the Accreditation Commission. Once accredited, AZA has a verifiable track record of enforcing its standards and monitors institutions in a variety of ways. AZA member institutions are required to repeat the entire accreditation process every five years to assure that they are upholding the continuously evolving standards, incorporating best modern zoological practices in animal welfare and management, and embracing modern AZA philosophies.
The AZA Accreditation Quarter Century Award, developed in 2015, recognizes 25 years of continuous accreditation, AZA's gold standard for zoo & aquarium quality. Four institutions achieved this milestone in 2016. View the list of 2016 awardees. At the conception of the award, numerous institutions received this honor, many of which were well beyond the 25 year mark of continuous accreditation. View the inaugural group of awardees. Congratulations to all of these institutions for their long-time commitment to excellence!
Fewer than 10% of the approximately 2,800 animal exhibitors licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture are AZA accredited! The AZA logo is the easiest, most reliable way for people to choose zoos and aquariums that meet our rigorous accreditation standards.
So be sure to look for the "Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums" logo on web sites, advertisements, and at the gate! Before you visit, check our list of AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums to see if an institution is AZA-accredited. For more extensive information on accreditation we invite you to download a copy of the latest edition of the Accreditation Standards and Related Policies (PDF) and read our standards for yourself.
Accreditation Standards and Related Policies
Guide to Accreditation