Beginner’s guide to Association of Zoos and Aquariums accreditation

In September 2014, the S.E.A. Aquarium and Dolphin Island at Resorts World Sentosa received accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), two of three facilities that have that mark here in Asia.

association of zoos aquariums aza logo

Accreditation by the AZA is a standard by which zoos and aquariums globally are measured. It is highly regarded in the United States and is used in six other countries–Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Bahamas, Bermuda, Hong Kong (China) and Singapore.

Founded in 1924, the non-profit organisation pursues advancement in conservation, animal welfare, education, science, and recreation in zoos and aquariums. To date, there are 228 AZA-accredited facilities around the world.

When Kris Vehrs, Executive Director of AZA, came to Singapore to award the accreditation, she sat down with the Marine Life Park blog to explain the accreditation process and the roles zoos and aquariums play in society.


Marine Life Park blog: How many facilities in Asia are accredited?

There are three in total: Resorts World Sentosa’s S.E.A. Aquarium and Dolphin Island as well as Ocean Park in Hong Kong.

Do you see more institutions in Asia applying for AZA accreditation?

I hope so because I know that there are some quality institutions in Asia. It would be an advantage both for the institution applying as well as the accredited institutions here in Singapore and in Hong Kong to have other accredited facilities to work with.

For me, AZA’s goal is to get the public to go to accredited zoos and aquariums. So when they go to that facility, they know that they are going to facilities that use the best practices and excel in animal care, conservation, and conservation education.

How many new facilities apply for accreditation in a year?

Typically three to four new facilities would apply for accreditation. This year, we actually had five new ones applying–which was amazing. All five of them were accredited.

An accreditation lasts for five years. At the end, the facility would have to go through the same accreditation process to be accredited again.

Could you share how many facilities were denied accreditation?

In the last 10-year period. AZA denied accreditation to 26 institutions, which includes facilities that have gone through accreditation.

Please explain how long the accreditation process takes?

For a new institution, before applying for accreditation, it will start with a self-evaluation to check if its current processes and procedures fit the AZA standards. If there is a difference, the facility would need to make changes.

In terms of the time period of accreditation, using the example of S.E.A. Aquarium and Dolphin Island, the facilities applied for accreditation by March 1, 2014. Then they went through the inspection process in either June or July with a hearing in September. After the hearing, the commission would vote for, deny or table the application.

What does “tabling an application” mean?

Tabling an application means that the facility is not accredited, but AZA thinks that it’s close and will give pointers about areas which it need to work on.

In 9 or 10 month, AZA sends another team to the facility to go through another inspection. Afterwards, the facility will go through a hearing process where the commission either vote to accredit or deny the application.

An accreditation lasts for five years. After a facility is accredited, what do they do in the five years’ time before reapplying?

AZA updates and revises the standard typically once a year. We’ll send the new standard to the institutions so they know what they need to be working on.

Apart from that, if some mishap happens at a facility during the five years, AZA will send a letter to understand what happened and what the lessons the facility learned.

If the commission isn’t satisfied with the response, we would send another team in at the facility’s cost to check on the situation. We have sent teams in the middle of an accreditation and after investigations, denied the accreditation.

We want to make sure that the standards are upheld. The accreditation is only good if everyone meets them.

Who sets the standards for AZA accreditation?

AZA sets the standards because we are the experts in animal care, conservation, conservation education. The accreditation team that comes on-site for inspection always has a veterinarian, a husbandry expert and operations expert. The team that came to inspect S.E.A. Aquarium and Dolphin Island have 80 years of combined experience in the zoo and aquarium community.

As for the accreditation commission–the body that oversees the whole process and vote to accredit or deny accreditation–there are 12 voting members. This commission has more than 300 years of combined experience in the zoo and aquarium community.

Who better to set the standard than the experts?

What roles do you see aquariums play?

There are 42 free standing aquariums in AZA. Besides managing their facilities, I see their work in rehabilitation and rescue work with animals in the ocean.

The aquariums also play a huge role in public awareness by teaching and inspiring children and by influencing people to change their behaviour. There’s also the role of the aquariums being responsible citizens of the world and leading by example.


To find out more about the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, you can visit their website.

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