|Founded||October 1924(as American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums)|
|Type||National not-for-profit organization|
|Focus||Zoo and aquarium accreditation; conservation; advocacy|
|Headquarters||Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.|
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (previously American Zoo and Aquarium Association, and originally American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums), commonly abbreviated AZA, is a nonprofit organization founded in 1924 dedicated to the advancement of North American zoos and public aquariums in the areas of conservation, education, science, and recreation. The AZA is headquartered in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.
In October 1924, the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums (AAZPA) was formed as an affiliate of the American Institute of Park Executives (AIPE). In 1966, the AAZPA became a professional branch affiliate of the newly formed National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA which absorbed the AIPE). In the fall of 1971, the AAZPA membership voted to become an independent association and, in January 1972, it was chartered as the AAZPA with its executive office located in Wheeling, West Virginia within the Oglebay Park Good Zoo. In January 1994, the shorter name American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) was adopted.
In 1998, there were 134 million visits to North American zoos and aquariums. Ten years later, in 2008, there were 175 million visits to AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums. AZA reported 186 million visitors to its 232 member zoos in 2016.
The organization is active in institution accreditation, animal care initiatives, education and conservation programs, collaborative research and advocacy in order to achieve this goal. It serves as an accrediting body for zoos and aquariums and ensures that accredited facilities meet higher standards of animal care than are required by law. Institutions are evaluated every five years in order to ensure standards are met and to maintain accreditation. The association also facilitates both Species Survival Plans and Population Management Plans, which serve to sustainably manage genetically diverse captive populations of various animal species. In addition, the association sponsors the scientific journal Zoo Biology.
The association has established a computerized database called the Annual Report on Conservation and Science. It provides a model for a broader database to help track research projects worldwide. The database can be searched by key word, name of researcher, topic, country or region, name of institution, conservation program title, name of cooperating institution (including governmental agencies and non-governmental organizations, colleges or universities, and non-member zoos and aquariums), type of research, or date.
In 2000-2001, member institutions reported that they participated in over 2,230 conservation projects (1,390 in situ and 610 ex situ, 230 both) in 94 countries. They published 1,450 books, book chapters, journal articles, conference proceeding papers, posters and theses or dissertations. The publications can be searched using keywords, name of author, type of publication, institution name, or date.
In the United States, any public animal exhibit must be licensed and inspected by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), United States Environmental Protection Agency, Drug Enforcement Administration, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and others. Depending on the animals they exhibit, the activities of zoos are regulated by laws including the Endangered Species Act, the Animal Welfare Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 and others. Additionally, zoos in North America may choose to pursue accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The American association has developed a definition for zoological gardens and aquariums as part of its accreditation standards: "A permanent cultural institution which owns and maintains captive wild animals that represent more than a token collection and, under the direction of a professional staff, provides its collection with appropriate care and exhibits them in an aesthetic manner to the public on a regularly scheduled basis. They shall further be defined as having as their primary business the exhibition, conservation and preservation of the earth's fauna in an educational and scientific manner." To achieve accreditation, a zoo must pass an application and inspection process and meet or exceed the AZA's standards for animal health and welfare, fundraising, zoo staffing, and involvement in global conservation efforts. Inspection is performed by three experts (typically one veterinarian, one expert in animal care, and one expert in zoo management and operations) and then reviewed by a panel of twelve experts before accreditation is awarded. This accreditation process is repeated once every five years. The AZA estimates that there are approximately 2,400 animal exhibits operating under USDA license as of February 2007; fewer than 10% are accredited.