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ZOO NEWS: AZA: Not best fit for everyone

Prior to Thanksgiving, this column discussed the Association of Zoos & Aquarium Association (AZA), which is considered to be the “gold standard” for accrediting zoological facilities. However, it is not the only accrediting body in the world, or for that matter the United States. The AZA was initially established in 1926 as the American Association of Zoological Parks & Aquariums (AAZPA) as a means of zoo professionals to come together to discuss aspects of their varied facilities to grow and improve the profession. The association has changed over the years, but the concepts were the inspiration for the many national and regional associations that have been created around the world.

A second organization in the US emerged in 1987 called the International Society of Zooculturists (ISZ). This new organization was established by one of the AAZPA founders and invited animal professionals from both the public and private sectors to meet and propose the creation of an organization that would deal more personally with “animal-only” related issues and concerns, without the distractions of marketing, graphics, gift shops, etc. In 2000, the ISZ became the United Zoological Association (UZA) as professionals representing publicly and privately owned animal collections met to discuss problems that were not being addressed by other organizations. In 2003, ISZ and UZA became sister organizations with the ISZ for individuals and UZA for facilities. In February 2005, ISZ and UZA combined to form the Zoological Association of America (ZAA).

While the AZA is still considered the “gold standard” of zoo and aquarium facilities there are many top zoological facilities that have opted to be members of the ZAA for a variety of reasons. The ZAA still focuses on animal care and developing the next generation of zoo professionals and not so much in the realm of politics or other operational aspects of a facility. Like the AZA, ZAA does focus on education, conservation, and professional development at its core. While some institutions have opted to become accredited by both organizations, the Roosevelt Park Zoo has only pursued the AZA accreditation. However, the Zoo has several staff members who do hold individual memberships to both organizations.

So why do we need two separate zoological accrediting bodies? While they are similar in a lot of ways, there are still differences in their directions and overall goals. This is not saying that one is superior to the other; they are just different. In a world where people want to look at everything as black or white and not recognizing that there is grey, zoo professionals for the most part still focus on continually improving on the way we care for animals. Life is not black and white regardless of what folks want you to believe. There is always room for grey and truth be known, grey is usually the rule instead of the exception.

The Roosevelt Park Zoo will continue to work toward getting better every day and strive to maintain the status of being an AZA-accredited zoo.

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