April 4, 2022 (updated January 6, 2023)
Did you know Miller Park Zoo is among the fewer than 10% of animal exhibitors licensed by the US Department of Agriculture that is also accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)? For over 40 years, the AZA has been the primary accrediting organization for zoos and aquariums. Earning a place among its accredited facilities is no small feat. Miller Park Zoo has been accredited for over 30 years, reapplying every 5 years. In September of 2023, the Zoo will once again reapply to keep that accreditation.
Zoo Staff have been hard at work planning and maintaining the standards from the last accreditation process. But like all good processes, the AZA has continued to update their rigorous standards. This ensures institutions bearing the AZA logo are providing the best possible life for the animals in their care and the best possible experience for their guests.
Though the constantly changing standards mean constantly improving animal welfare and guest experience, it can also mean zoos seeking accreditation must sometimes make big changes to comply.
“Some of the standards, especially the new ones, are a bit vague, and we try and talk to other zoos that have undergone the accreditation process to see what they have done” says Zookeeper Erik Heinonen “there is also the issue of us being a small zoo with a small staff and a small budget. If the standards have changed and require new facilities or changes to existing facilities, it can be difficult for us to accomplish that.”
But that does not mean the staff at Miller Park Zoo are not up to the challenge.
What goes into the accreditation process?
You may have seen the AZA logo online or at the zoo and maybe have not thought much about it. That logo tells the world that the Miller Park Zoo has passed a rigorous accreditation process to become an elite member in the Zoo World.
During an accreditation process, the AZA Accreditation Commission evaluates the Zoo according to the current set of standards. AZA’s standards are set according to the available scientific data and include areas such as animal welfare, veterinary care, conservation, guest services, physical facilities, education and much more.
Institutions applying for accreditation submit an extensive written application, undergo a multi-day inspection of their facilities. They also attend an in-person hearing in front of the entire Accreditation Commission. Even once accredited, the Accreditation Commission has the power to rescind accreditation, at any time, if their standards are not upheld by the institution.
What does an AZA Accreditation mean to Miller Park Zoo?
For Miller Park Zoo, earning an AZA Accreditation is more than a symbol on a poster or website, it is a badge of honor, showing that even a small zoo can hold itself to the same standards as much larger institutions. It speaks to a firm commitment to both the animals that call the zoo home and to our zoo community, that Miller Park Zoo will continue improving animal care and the guest experience.
I think it [AZA Accreditation] is very important because it shows that we are, as a zoo, doing our best to meet the very highest standards. It is good for us as staff to know that we are holding ourselves to these high standards and good for the guests to know that they are spending their time at a facility that is striving to do its best for both captive and wild animals. -Eric Heinonen
How you can help
A lot of work and improvements are in store for the Zoo before September 2023 to ensure that facilities remain in compliance with the AZA’s ever-improving standards, but Miller Park Zoo is more determined than ever to provide an experience that its resident animals and guests deserve. Our Zoo community has always been an integral part of Miller Park Zoo's evolution and your continued support will ensure the zoo continues to provide the exceptional zoo experience our community deserves.
Because improvements add up in costs, the best way to help is through a monetary donation. However, this does not just mean writing a check. When you become a Zoo Member or attend a Zoo event you are directly supporting Miller Park Zoo and its mission.
If you are looking for another way to help, consider volunteering for the Zoo or Zoological Society. There are plenty of opportunities available from guest services to animal care to special events and we love meeting new faces!