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AZA announces award winners for 2021 and new accreditations

Association of Zoos and Aquariums celebrates member achievements and grants accreditation to 22 facilities

San Diego Zoo expands licensing strategy to include key brands, merchandising and more

AZA, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, revealed the recipients of its 2021 Honors and Awards during its virtual conference. This annual programme celebrates the achievements of AZA members in conservation, education, exhibit design, diversity and more.

In addition, the AZA independent Accreditation Commission has recently granted accreditation to 22 facilities.

Recognising achievements

“It is important for AZA and its community to recognize excellence, and that is what our Honors and Award program does,” says AZA President and CEO, Dan Ashe. “Congratulations to all of this year’s award winners. AZA is lucky to count you among its professional community!”

“Even amidst a pandemic, AZA members continue to do exceptional work. Our Honors and Awards program recognizes and celebrates those achievements,” says Sue Chin, Vice President of Planning & Design and Chief Architect at the Wildlife Conservation Society, and Chair, AZA Honors and Awards Committee.

AZA confefence 2021

“AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums are leaders in animal care, conservation, education, community outreach, and more. The communities where these award-winning facilities are located should be proud of their achievements!”

The 2021 Honors and Awards recipients are as follows:

  • Animal Welfare Lifetime Achievement Award: Jill Mellen, PhD. – Disney’s Animal Kingdom
  • The Devra Kleiman Scientific Advancement Award: Oliver Ryder, PhD, Director of Conservation Genetics – San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance
  • R. Marlin Perkins Award for Professional Excellence: Douglas Myers, President and CEO Emeritus – San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance
  • William G. Conway International Conservation Award: Top Honors – Giant Armadillo Conservation Project; Houston Zoo, Houston, Texas / Naples Zoo and Caribbean Gardens, Naples, Fla. / SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, Orlando, Fla.
  • Exhibit Award: Top Honors – Eagle Passage: Wings of Hope; Northwest Trek Wildlife Park, Eatonville Wash. Top Honors – Kathrine G. McGovern Texas Wetlands and Cypress Circle Café; Houston Zoo, Houston, Texas Significant Achievement – Australian Adventures; The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, Palm Desert, Calif.
  • Angela Peterson Excellence in Diversity Award: Top Honors – For Wildlife, For ALL; Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago, Ill. Special Recognition – WCS Youth Career Lattice; Wildlife Conservation Society, New York, N.Y.
  • Education Award: Top Honors – Zoo School; Henry Vilas Zoo, Madison, Wisc. Top Honors – Virtual Aquarium: Supporting Teachers, Students and Families In a Time of Crisis; The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk, Norwalk, Conn. Significant Achievement – Young Naturalists; Western North Carolina Nature Center, Asheville, N.C. Significant Achievement – ZooConnect; Zoological Society of Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisc. Significant Achievement – Toronto Zoo’s Great Lakes Program; Toronto Zoo, Toronto, Canada
  • Green Award: Top Honors – Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, Omaha, Neb. Innovation Award – Brevard Zoo, Melbourne, Fla.
  • Excellence in Marketing Award: Top Honors – Our World Without: Save the Heart and Soul of the South Carolina Aquarium; South Carolina Aquarium, Charleston, S.C. Top Honors – Shedd Aquarium Recovery Campaign; John G. Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, Ill. Significant Achievement – Calgary Zoo Daily & Weekly Dose Campaign; Calgary Zoological Society, Calgary, Canada Significant Achievement – Tembo Camp; Indianapolis Zoo, Indianapolis, Ind.
  • Volunteer Engagement Award: Significant Achievement – Calgary Zoo Volunteer Program; The Calgary Zoological Society, Calgary, Canada. Innovation Award – Docent-Led Virtual Field Trips (VFT); Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association, Los Angeles Zoo, Los Angeles, Calif.
  • Quarter Century Award (for 25 years of continuous AZA accreditation): African Safari Wildlife Park – Port Clinton, Ohio. Northeastern Wisconsin (NEW) Zoo – Green Bay, Wisc. Rainforest and Aquarium at Moody Gardens – Galveston, Texas. The Wilds – Cumberland, Ohio.

Accreditation granted

After three weeks of virtual meetings, the AZA Accreditation Commission has accredited 22 facilities and denied five applications, including four longstanding members and one new applicant.

To complete the accreditation process, facilities must submit a thorough application and pass a stringent multiple-day inspection by an independent team of trained zoological professionals. During the inspection, all aspects are explored, including animal welfare and well-being; veterinary care; keeper training; safety for visitors, staff, and animals; educational programs; conservation efforts; financial stability; risk management; governance; and guest services.

After the inspection, a detailed report is passed to the Accreditation Commission, who will also interview top officials at a formal hearing, before deciding to grant accreditation, extend it for one year, or deny the application.

Kansas City Zoo

The following facilities were granted accreditation, including one new facility:

  • Akron Zoological Park, Ohio
  • Albuquerque Biological Park, N.M.
  • Central Park Zoo, New York, N.Y.
  • Cheyenne Mountain Zoological Park, Colorado Springs, Colo.
  • Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, St. Paul, Minn.
  • Cosley Zoo, Wheaton, Ill.
  • Indianapolis Zoological Society, Ind.
  • John Ball Zoo, Grand Rapids, Mich.
  • Kansas City Zoo, Mo.
  • Lee G. Simmons Wildlife Safari Park, Ashland, Neb.
  • Lehigh Valley Zoo, Schnecksville, Pa.
  • [NEW] Montréal Biodôme, Space for Life, Québec, Canada
  • National Aviary, Pittsburgh, Pa.
  • North Carolina Zoo, Asheboro, N.C.
  • Prospect Park Zoo, Brooklyn, N.Y.
  • Queens Zoo, N.Y.
  • Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, Columbia, S.C.
  • Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo, Gainesville, Fla.
  • SEA LIFE Charlotte-Concord Aquarium, Concord, N.C.
  • Sequoia Park Zoo, Eureka, Calif.
  • Western North Carolina Nature Center, Asheville, N.C.
  • ZOOAMERICA North American Wildlife Park, Hersey, Pa.

“The communities where these 22 zoos and aquariums are located should be proud their local aquarium, zoo or nature center is among the best zoological facilities in the world,” says Ashe.

“The process to receive AZA accreditation is rigorous, and continues to include ever-increasing standards to ensure that the animals’ best interests are always first and foremost. We are excited and proud to have these top-notch zoos and aquariums as AZA members.”

A rigourous process

The Commission denied accreditation to two longstanding members, and one new applicant: Chahinkapa Zoo, in Wahpeton, N.D.; Erie Zoo in Erie, Pa.; and Montgomery Zoo, in Montgomery, Ala. As existing members, Chahinkapa and Erie have 30 days to appeal the Commission’s decision to the AZA board of directors’ Executive Committee.

Earlier this year, the Commission announced its decision to deny AZA accreditation to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, in Ohio, and the Safari West Wildlife Preserve, in Santa Rosa, Calif. Both facilities have appealed the Commission’s decision.

“Overall, these hearings and Commission decisions clearly demonstrate the rigor and independence of the AZA accreditation process,” adds Ashe.

“Our standards are comprehensive and our process is thorough, objective and independent. Large or small, zoo or aquarium, membership is measured against commitment to excellence—to the “gold standard” for a modern zoological facility. We wish all these facilities well, and hope they will reapply for accreditation when they are ready and eligible. Several have already inquired about joining our Pathway Toward Membership program.”

Last month AZA announced the recipients of its latest Conservation Grants Fund grants, supported by the Disney Conservation Fund.

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charlotte coates

Charlotte Coates

Charlotte Coates is blooloop's editor. She is from Brighton, UK and previously worked as a librarian. She has a strong interest in arts, culture and information and graduated from the University of Sussex with a degree in English Literature. Charlotte can usually be found either with her head in a book or planning her next travel adventure.

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