Did you know the International Exotic Animal Sanctuary (IEAS) was the first Sanctuary of its kind to be certified by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)? So, what is the AZA, anyway? It is a fellow 501(c)3 non-profit organization representing institutions meeting the highest standards in animal care. They are leaders in animal welfare, conservation, and education.
The AZA maintains two membership categories: Institutional members and Related Facility members. Most major zoos and aquariums that you are familiar with are AZA accredited. Related Facility members, such as IEAS, are very similar but there are subtle differences. Related Facilities do not need to cater aesthetically to the public, and are not required to be open to the public on a regularly scheduled, predictable basis. Other examples of Related Facilities include rehabilitation centers, wildlife ranches, and research facilities. These subtle differences are important in determining whether facilities are accredited or certified.
Institutional members are accredited, whereas Related Facilities are certified. The main difference between accreditation and certification, as I touched on before, is public access. Related Facilities may not be evaluated on enclosure aesthetics or design (something very important to the public eye), but they are expected to achieve, maintain, and/or surpass the same high standards of animal management and husbandry as zoological parks and aquariums. They must also follow the AZA’s Code of Ethics, policies, and standards. Related Facilities with education programs should strive to have their program meet accreditation standards, as well. Both accreditation and certification inspections are required every five years.
Want to learn more about the Association of Zoos and Aquariums or the certification process? Please visit aza.org