Association of Zoos and Aquariums

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), previously the American Zoo and Aquarium Association and originally the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 1924 dedicated to the advancement of North American zoos and public aquariums in the areas of conservation, education, science, and recreation. The AZA is headquartered in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

Association of Zoos and Aquariums
FoundedOctober 1924 (1924-10) (as American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums)
TypeNational not-for-profit organization
Legal status501(c)(3) nonprofit organization
FocusAccreditation of zoos and aquariums; conservation; advocacy
HeadquartersSilver Spring, Maryland, U.S.
Coordinates38°59′41″N 77°01′53″W
Area served
North America
Peggy Sloan
Dan Ashe
Kris Vehrs
Revenue (2016)
Expenses (2016)$10,427,633
Employees (2016)
Volunteers (2016)


In October 1924, the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums (AAZPA) was formed as an affiliate of the American Institute of Park Executives (AIPE). In 1966, the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums became a professional branch affiliate of the newly formed National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA, which absorbed the American Institute of Park Executives).

In the fall of 1971, the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums membership voted to become an independent association and, on January 19, 1972,[1] it was chartered as the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums with its executive office located in Wheeling, West Virginia, within the Oglebay Park Good Zoo. In January 1994, the shorter name American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) was adopted.[2]

In early 2018, AZA acquired the Wildlife Trafficking Alliance to help grow public awareness about the purchase and sale of illegal wildlife products in the United States.[3]

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums reported 195 million visitors to its 236 accredited member facilities in 2017.[4]


The organization is active in institution accreditation, animal care initiatives, education and conservation programs, collaborative research and advocacy.

AZA serves as an accrediting body for zoos and aquariums and ensures accredited facilities meet higher standards of animal care than required by law. Institutions are evaluated every five years in order to ensure standards are met and to maintain accreditation. As of 2019, AZA has 236 accredited facilities in the US and 8 other countries: Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, The Bahamas, Colombia, Argentina, Hong Kong, and Singapore.[5]

Approximately 800,000 animals representing 6,000 species are in the care of AZA-accredited facilities, including 1,000 threatened or endangered species.[5] The association also facilitates both Species Survival Plans and Population Management Plans, which serve to sustainably manage genetically diverse captive populations of various animal species.[5]

Over 2,800 individual members meet each year at AZA's September conference, the largest, most comprehensive zoo and aquarium professionals’ events in the country. Peer-developed program meetings, roundtables, and workshops in an interactive format challenge attendees to collaborate with one another and promise ample opportunity to learn and discuss issues critical to the profession.

AZA also manages the citizen science program FrogWatch USA.[6]


In the United States, any public animal exhibit must be licensed and inspected by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), United States Environmental Protection Agency, Drug Enforcement Administration, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and others. Depending on the animals they exhibit, the activities of zoos are regulated by laws including the Endangered Species Act, the Animal Welfare Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 and others.[7] Additionally, zoos in North America may choose to pursue accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The American association has developed a definition for zoological gardens and aquariums as part of its accreditation standards: "A permanent cultural institution which owns and maintains captive wild animals that represent more than a token collection and, under the direction of a professional staff, provides its collection with appropriate care and exhibits them in an aesthetic manner to the public on a regularly scheduled basis. They shall further be defined as having as their primary business the exhibition, conservation and preservation of the earth's fauna in an educational and scientific manner." To achieve accreditation, a zoo must pass an application and inspection process and meet or exceed the AZA's standards for animal health and welfare, fundraising, zoo staffing, and involvement in global conservation efforts. Inspection is performed by three experts (typically one veterinarian, one expert in animal care, and one expert in zoo management and operations) and then reviewed by a panel of twelve experts before accreditation is awarded. This accreditation process is repeated once every five years. The AZA estimates that there are approximately 2,800 animal exhibits operating under USDA license as of 2019; fewer than 10% are accredited.[4][8] Certification is possible for facilities that hold animals, but are not regularly open to the public. Certified-related facilities must meet the same standards as accredited facilities every five years.

Saving Animals From Extinction

AZA's Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) program prioritizes collaboration between zoos and aquariums to support highly vulnerable species. SAFE builds on existing recovery plans to implement strategic conservation and public engagement activities.[9] In 2017, AZA member zoos and aquariums invested $15.6 million towards SAFE program species.[10]

The SAFE program signature species include African lion, African vultures, Asian elephant, American red wolf, Atlantic Acripora coral, black-footed ferret, black rhinoceros, cheetah, Eastern indigo snake, giraffe, gorilla, sea turtles, orangutan, radiated tortoise, sea turtles, sharks and rays, vaquita, western pond turtle, and whooping crane. There are now more than 20 species or taxonomic groups included in the program.[11]

Annual Report on Conservation and Science

The association has established a computerized database called the Annual Report on Conservation and Science. It provides a model for a broader database to help track research projects worldwide. The database can be searched by key word, name of researcher, topic, country or region, name of institution, conservation program title, name of cooperating institution (including governmental agencies and non-governmental organizations, colleges or universities, and non-member zoos and aquariums), type of research, or date.

AZA member zoos and aquariums contribute $220 million to conservation projects each year.[10] They participate in 115 reintroduction programs, including more than 40 programs for species listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.[5]

In 2017, member institutions reported participating in field conservation projects benefiting over 860 species in 128 countries. AZA zoos and aquariums spent $25 million on research and published 170 books, book chapters, journal articles, conference proceeding papers, posters and theses or dissertations. Animal care, health and welfare, followed by species and habitat conservation, describe 68% of the AZA community's research.[10]

See also


  1. "American Association of Zoological Parks and Acquariums". Business Entity Details. West Virginia Secretary of State. Retrieved September 20, 2018.
  2. Wagner, Robert O., "The independence of AAZPA", in Regional Conference Proceedings 1996, American Zoo and Aquarium Association, Wheeling, West Virginia, 1996.
  3. Bratcher, Emily (2018-02-15). "Zoos and Aquariums Group Acquires U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance". Associations Now.
  4. "About AZA". Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
  5. "Zoo and Aquarium Statistics". Association of Zoos & Aquariums. October 2018.
  6. "FrogWatch USA". Retrieved 2019-01-17.
  7. Grech, Kali S. (2004). "Overview of the Laws Affecting Zoos". Animal Legal & Historical Center. Michigan State University College of Law.
  8. "What is Accreditation?". Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Archived from the original on 26 July 2010. Retrieved August 9, 2010.
  9. "Meet the SAFE Species". Retrieved 2018-08-24.
  10. "2017 Annual Report on Conservation and Science: Highlights" (PDF).
  11. "SAFE Species". Retrieved 2019-01-17.
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