Imagine a world where all people believed in a better future for all living things. Now, envision yourself at the Oklahoma City Zoo, surrounded by passionate animal keepers, happy horticulturists and inspired guests who all respect, value and conserve wildlife and wild places. This ideal is the principal goal of the Zoo and its accrediting organization, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
What Does it Mean to be Accredited?
Accreditation is awarded through a stringent process in which zoo professionals (inspectors) from around the country travel to other zoos to ensure (through observation, investigation, documentation and recommendation) that the zoos are performing their daily operations at the highest levels. The AZA organization has set these standards based on best practices for animal welfare ensuring that all husbandry needs are met and all USDA standards are in place. In many instances, these standards go well above the criteria that animal facilities need to meet to stay in operation. The inspectors are selected based on professional standing, past performance and expertise in their respective field. In addition to animal welfare, inspectors look for financial strength, security of the grounds, safety records, board or trust involvement, operational competence, and updated policies and procedures, just to name a few.
A History of Excellence
The Oklahoma City Zoo has been an accredited zoo since 1982, just 8 years after the first institution was accredited in 1974. Although the Zoo has grown immensely to serve more than one million visitors each year, and offers top-rated educational outreach opportunities, multiple summer and day camp opportunities, a DHS-certified preschool, Zoomobiles for reaching outlying areas, an expansive 119-acre botanical garden, and hundreds of dedicated professionals who expertly care for its 1,500-plus animal collection, the Zoo has done the work necessary to retain its accreditation for 35 years.
Not All Zoos are Equal
Unfortunately, not all zoos meet AZA requirements. Of the approximately 2,800 animal “exhibitors” licensed by the USDA across the country, less than 10 percent are AZA-accredited. A zoo’s accreditation is revisited and up for renewal every five years. The cycle enables all AZA-accredited zoos to be able to make any necessary changes to their operations in order to meet or exceed the standards set by all of the governing agencies which play a part in making zoos safe, family oriented destinations and superior animal care facilities. The Zoo’s next accreditation review will be in 2018.
By being accredited, the Zoo is declaring to Oklahomans and partnering organizations that quality of care for its animals, quality of service for its guests and quality of work life for its employees is being accomplished—day in and day out. The Zoo will continue to go above and beyond the minimum standards required. It will continue to be acknowledged as a forerunner in animal welfare, education, safety, financial accountability and conservation. At the Oklahoma City Zoo, you don’t have to imagine a world where all people believed in a better future for all living things, you can come and experience it for yourself!
– Barry Downer, Zoo deputy director