Are “Unaccredited” Zoos Worth Visiting?

In this age we know that animals all have very different and specific needs if they are kept in captivity, and many people question whether or not we actually still need zoos and aquariums…  The short answer to this, from my point of view is that there are many zoos around the world which carry out incredible work for conservation and education.  I firmly believe that seeing an animal in real life will develop a closer bond with the general public – and thus be more likely to lead to change – than seeing a documentary on TV.  If you need some examples of the great work which is done by zoos, what better than showcasing some species which beat extinction thanks to work done with them in captivity (mostly by zoos but also by private keepers of these species):

Bronx Zoo

Beating Extinction With Zoos

Przewalski’s Horse (Equus ferus przewalksii)

In my opinion this is the most beautiful of all the wild horses, and can be seen in many zoos around the world if you don’t believe me!  They hail from China and Mongolia where they went extinct in the wild in the 1960’s, however thanks to zoo work they can now once again be seen running in the wilds of both of these countries.

Mountain Chicken Frog (Leptodactylus fallax)

As with a number of amphibians, this species is facing an uncertain future due to the chytrid fungus which is lethal and spreads like wild fire.  Thanks to work by zoos, including places such as ZSL London and Durrell Zoo on Jersey, huge levels of work have gone in to not only securing a future population of this frog, but also in to researching a cure for this fungus.

Amphibian Breeding Facility @ Smithsonian National Zoo

The American Red Wolf (Canis rufus)

Only 14 individuals remained in the wild by 1980, however thanks to zoo breeding by American zoos and re-introduction by 1987 these numbers were back up to 100.

Amur Leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis)

As few as 40 or so wild Amur leopards remain, however zoos around the world hold 5 times this many with over 200 individuals spread around the globe, making a strong and healthy safety net population.  Once there is a way to effectively stop the risks raised by hunters, these animals can once again be used to repopulate the wilds of Russia with this majestic cat.

Axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum)

This is a very strange looking species of salamander seemingly caught in a never ending juvenile state.  They live only in Lake Xochimilco in Mexico (a small lake on the outskirts of the hugely populated Mexico City) where studies found 6,000 individuals in 1998, 1,000 in 2003, 100 in 2008 and not a single animal in 2013 per square Km.

This species is classified by the IUCN red list as critically endangered, possibly extinct in the wild however thanks to captive breeding of this species there are still thousands outside the Lake Xochimilco area – in fact you can even find them in many pet shops.

Californian Condor (Gymnogyps californianus)

A hue, majestic bird which was once common in California, faced extinction in the 1980’s, however with the help of San Diego Zoo (employing some great hand rearing techniques using a condor puppet), their numbers have increased ten-fold in the wild.

What Does Accreditation Mean?

Whilst the projects above are all well and good, a case between the UK and USA has come to international attention which focuses on the difference between accredited and unaccredited zoos, and claims that unaccredited zoos are (due purely based on not being affiliated with a zoos association) of a low standard and that their conservation is non existent or of little value.

This particular case concerns a research center in the USA wishing to move a group of their retired chimpanzees to a fully licensed zoo in the UK.  However an animal rights activist group called the USA opposed the move, with one of their biggest claims being that the zoo is not a suitable home for these chimpanzees as they are not accredited…  Accredited by whom you may ask?

Giant Panda at the National Zoo

When people speak of accreditation they mean an outside authority (not government body) such as a zoo or aquarium association has developed a set of standards, and require zoos to adhere to these standards in order to become a paid for member of that association.  The zoo associations which I am currently aware of are:

  • ACOPAZOA (Colombian Association of Zoos and Aquaria)
  • AIZA (Iberian Association of Zoos and Aquaria)
  • ALPZA (Latin American Association of Zoos and Aquaria)
  • AMACZOOA (Caribbean Association of Zoos and Aquariums)
  • AMMPA (Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums)
  • ANPZ (French Association of Zoos)
  • ARAZPA (Australasian Regional Association of Zoological Parks and Aquaria)
  • AZA (American Zoo Association)
  • AZCARM (Mexican Zoo and Aquaria Association)
  • BIAZA (British & Irish Association of Zoos and Aquaria)
  • CAZA (Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums)
  • CZA (Central Zoo Authority of India)
  • DAZA (Danish Association of Zoological Gardens and Aquaria)
  • EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquariums)
  • FUNPZA (Venezuelan National Foundation of Zoological Parks and Aquaria)
  • IZA (Israeli Zoo Association)
  • JAZA (Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums)
  • MAZPA (Malaysian Association of Zoological Parks and Aquaria)
  • NVD (Dutch Zoo Federation)
  • OZO (Austrian Zoo Association)
  • PAAZAB (African Association of Zoos and Aquaria)
  • PKBSI (Indonesian Zoological Parks Association)
  • RDPOZiA (Board of Directors of Polish Zoological Gardens and Aquaria)
  • SAZA (Swedish Association of Zoological Parks and Aquaria)
  • SAZARC (South Asian Zoo Association for Regional Cooperation)
  • SEAZA (South East Asian Zoo Association)
  • SNDPZ (National Syndicate of French Zoo Directors)
  • SZB (Society of Brazilian Zoos)
  • UCSZ (Union of Czech and Slovak Zoological Gardens)
  • UIZA (Italian Union of Zoos and Aquaria)
  • VDZ (German Federation of Zoo Directors)
  • WAZA (World Association of Zoos and Aquariums)
  • ZOOSchweiz (Swiss Association of Scientific Zoos)

Hippo at Philadelphia Zoo

One thing which is worth noting is that being unaccredited is VERY different to being unlicensed.  Just because a zoo is not part of a zoo association, as long as it is operating as a legal zoological institution it will still be licenced under their local or government authority.  Whilst I cannot speak for most other countries, I do know that the licencing procedure and standards in the UK are set very high and don’t differ very much from the entry requirements of BIAZA.  This is a very important distinction to be aware of and keep in mind.

Does Accreditation Really Matter?

The claim being made by animal rights activists (see above) is that a zoo should be accredited by the American Zoo Association (AZA) or the equivalent in which ever country and region a zoo operates in and that if they are not – the standards within that zoo are not enforceable or enclosures and staff knowledge etc will be of a lower standard than in an accredited zoo.  However there are many reasons from management styles through to age or past disagreements through to current disagreements about policies between zoos and associations which may have made a zoo decide not to become accredited.  It certainly can be seen as a seal of quality or approval, however not having this seal of quality doesn’t automatically make it a sign of poor quality.

Rhinoceros at Philadelphia Zoo

As an example I will pull up the case above concerning the chimpanzee move to the UK.  This UK zoo was a member of BIAZA and as such accredited, however for their own reasons decided that they wanted to terminate that membership.  As such they are now unaccredited, however the park has continued to grow and improve since that time – TripAdvisor and their FaceBook page are testament to this.  Their standards are very high and the new housing which they have built for the chimpanzees can be seen below:

I think you would be hard pressed if you were to be completely honest with yourself, to say that this is a poor quality or substandard enclosure.  To put this in to context, below are a number of shots from various chimpanzee enclosures which house this species at zoos which are accredited by their local, regional and in some cases the global zoo association:

Whilst the final set of enclosures aren’t necessarily bad, can you honestly say that these are all of a significantly higher standard (if at all) than those at the unaccredited British zoo, and if I had not told you which one was at the unaccredited zoo and you had to guess – would you have guessed correct?  Most importantly however you probably wonder what the outcome was with the legal case.  Well there was nothing which the US courts could determine about the zoo which made them unable to look after chimpanzees or unsuitable for the move…  And yes – those chimpanzees are now living out the rest of their lives in a stunning new enclosure!

Wingham Wildlife Park Chimp

Accredited Zoos Share Controversy

There are many accredited zoos which face their fair share of controversy…  With the bad publicity which SeaWorld has received over past years since the premier of Black Fish (publicity which in many cases I don’t necessarily agree with – but that’s a blog entry for another day altogether) many people may be surprised to hear that their parks are all accredited or that Copenhagen Zoo, the park which euthanized Marius, a surplus male giraffe and carried out a public autopsy in 2014 (something which sparked world wide outrage) is also accredited with multiple associations.

Seaworld Orlando

Zoo associations may be seen as a kind of “old boys club” and as such pretty much all of the worlds largest and oldest zoos are members of these associations – which means that most of the worlds best zoos are accredited.  However amongst zoos which are not accredited you have parks such as Wingham Wildlife Park, Hamerton Zoo and the Rare Species Conservation Center…  All of these British zoos do great work for conservation and have some of the most varied and specialist collections and / or species in European zoos.  As mentioned previously there are plenty of reasons why zoos may have left or never joined an association, however one instance where it is worth thinking twice about visiting a zoo may be on occasions where they have either tried to apply for membership but were refused or were kicked out of the association for some reason.

Bronx Zoo

Don’t get me wrong…  This doesn’t mean that even all unaccredited zoos are good or always as good as all accredited zoos!  There are plenty of zoos which are unaccredited and in some cases shouldn’t even be licensed, and this is certainly something which you would be less likely to encounter amongst accredited zoos.  I think what you need to take away from this is that you need to look at any zoo upon their individual merits, not on whether an organisation which you often just need to pay to be a member of, has put their stamp of approval on them…  It is always worth making up your own minds about many things in life – zoos are one of them!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *