ACCREDITATION Apes to zebras and beyond

Lionsby Tim L. Tetzlaff
Naples Zoo Director of Conservation

When you read that Naples Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums or see the AZA logo in the Zoo, you may think that has to do with the animals. And it does. AZA is the international organization that sets the highest standards in the world for zoos and aquariums, but it goes far beyond quality care for animals. As an AZA accredited institution, Naples Zoo has also met the rigorous standards for conservation, research, education, financial accountability, guest services, safety and security, quality and training of staff, and much more. For perspective, less than 10 percent of USDA licensed wildlife exhibitors have achieved accreditation.


Preparation for an institution’s accreditation often begins years before the first inspector sets foot on-site. On average, the seemingly short 28 page accreditation application generates the electronic equivalent of two to three 4-inch binders of documentation. The application drills down into thirteen broad categories covering everything from daily procedures to a wide range of emergency plans. Institutions must also submit overall programming from animal collection plans to preventative veterinary care protocols to education and interpretation strategies and their evaluation. The process also requires protocols and a host of supporting documents from emergency drill practices and government inspection reports to behavioral enrichment programs and facilities maintenance budgets.

Following submission of the application, an inspection team is dispatched from around the country for a multiple day inspection of the facility. These experts, including a veterinarian, examine and evaluate all aspects of operations. They meet with the director and senior staff, the governing body, and then meet privately with staff.

tigerFollowing the inspection, they present a list of concerns and accomplishments. The institution typically has several months to address concerns prior to the hearing before the AZA Accreditation Commission, a panel of twelve experts who can follow up on issues the inspection team highlighted or generate completely new questions based on the application, inspectors’ comments, or comments from outside organizations and individuals. Their deliberation results in an institution being accredited or not.

Accreditation is granted for a five-year period, but can be revoked at any time if circumstances change. As standards are being continuously raised, institutions must keep up with the standards. I’m proud to say your Zoo has consistently been granted accreditation at each inspection since 2001 including the most recent hearing in March 2016.


With 230 accredited members, AZA accredited zoos and aquariums cooperatively manage Species Survival Plan® programs for thousands of rare animals in their care. Collectively, AZA institutions also participate in field conservation projects in about 100
countries and invest over 150 million dollars each year.

Last year, Naples Zoo contributed over half a million dollars to efforts like these to benefit plants and animals in the wild. In addition, zoo and aquarium experts contribute hundreds of publications each year to expand the knowledge of animals and their needs.


AZA accredited institutions represent thousands of curators and keepers, conservationists and scientists, researchers and registrars working together to make a better world for wildlife – and all of us. This is why your zoo is able to attract highly qualified staff and cooperate in programs for critically endangered species like Malayan tigers, slender horned gazelles, cotton-top tamarins and more.

As more people join with us in wanting to improve animal welfare and to connect young people with nature, I encourage you to share what the AZA logo means with your friends. Looking for that logo when traveling is the simplest way to insure you’re patronizing a facility that aligns with your expectations for a modern zoo or aquarium.

We are all proud that Naples Zoo has met the high standards set by AZA. When you purchase a ticket or make a donation, it helps fund our programs from our conservation activities to our exhibits, and we want to thank you for your part in Naples Zoo’s continued success.

Far from the simple menageries of the past, today’s nationally accredited zoos are centers of learning and natural crossroads for biologists, educators, environmental scientists, and researchers – as well as for students, conservationists, and all animal lovers. Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens is an award-winning, private 501(c)(3) nonprofit serving wildlife and families here and around the world. More information at

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