Akron Zoo receives the rare “clean” accreditation from the AZA

By Aja Hannah for TDS

Photo provided by the Akron Zoo

After a rigorous inspection, Akron Zoo has received a “clean” accreditation report from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Accreditation Commission, something achieved by only two other zoos in the last 50 years of AZA inspections. The AZA inspects 240 zoos and aquariums in the United States and 12 other countries. 

“Akron Zoo is rightfully proud of this extremely rare accomplishment,” said AZA President Dan Ashe in a news release. 

Clean means the inspection team found no concerns when they viewed the zoo on site. The inspectors had no suggestions for improvement or recommendations for changes before the zoo’s full accreditation is renewed.

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 “I’ve been in this profession for 33 years and I haven’t seen one. I’m very proud of my team. I’m still amazed by the work of my staff,” said Akron Zoo CEO Doug Piekarz.

This year, four inspectors visited the zoo and the team for the bulk of a week. The inspectors are experts in their fields and they hail from other AZA-accredited zoos or aquariums. The team visited every habitat at the Akron Zoo and they were able to interview any staff member they wanted. 

At the end, Akron Zoo met or exceeded every standard from the AZA inspection team, which reviewed animal care, visitor safety, veterinary care, conservation efforts, facility conditions, guest services and the financial health of the zoo.  

“The chair of the inspection team, who had been a past leader of the National Zoo at the Smithsonian, came and told me that we had a perfect report. I thought he was joking,” Piekarz laughed as he recalled the story. “I said I had to bring my senior team in to hear this because of everything we have gone through with COVID.”

Piekarz said this clean report is proof to the Akron community that “their investment at the Akron Zoo has been put to good use. [The clean report] speaks to the level of care and attention that the Akron staff pays to .. the animals.”

As of today, Akron Zoo can say they have maintained their accreditation through the AZA since 1989 — that’s over 30 years. Ashe did note that the AZA’s independent Accreditation Commission will hear Akron Zoo’s case in October to officially renew their accreditation.

Accreditation requires a written component and a zoo/aquarium must complete this process every five years in order to stay accredited. They started this renewal process in February of 2020 but their inspection was delayed due to COVID-19. 

Another highlight of Akron Zoo’s last year is that they did not lay off a single employee during the pandemic, even during the shutdown. Piekarz said that it helped that the shutdown happened in March before they hired any seasonal staff for the summer. There was no need to worry about expenditures of events either. 

During the pandemic, Akron Zoo took on the goal to create an economy of grace and to be kind “to each other and ourselves and our community. This really manifested to ensure that no one and nothing suffered in any way that we could help,” said Peikarz.

Aja Hannah is a writer, traveler, and mama. She believes in the Oxford comma, cheap flights, and a daily dose of chocolate.

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