Willow Park Zoo aims for accreditation

By Nicole Cowdell

The Logan Willow Park Zoo has started the process to gain accreditation with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums—and officials know the process won’t be an easy one.

The AZA is an organization that accredits zoos and aquariums that have met strict standards. Those standards include areas such as animal living environments, health, nutrition, animal enrichment, veterinary care and overall safety guidelines.

AZA accreditation will open numerous doors for Willow Park, as it is becoming harder and harder to work with non-accredited zoos within the industry.

“They require a lot of hurdles, lots of different records and letters of recommendation from one or two institutions we’ve worked with before,” said Troy Cooper, the zoo’s director.

After the official application has been filled out, the AZA will take close to a year to review and inspect the property before confirming accreditation. Following confirmation, each institution must renew the accreditation every five years, repeating the nearly year-long process, Cooper said.

“When you become accredited it’s a very broad spectrum,” Cooper said. “They take you from A to Z and go into the double A’s and double Z’s. They spend two to five days at your facility and go through cracks in the ceilings and floors and doorknobs. They look at everything; it’s intense.”

Another factor zoos must consider before completing the application is the cost attached to it.

“The accreditation process, even just to be reviewed by the board, costs several thousand dollars,” said Jonathan Larson, the zoological manager at Willow Park.

Willow Park will have to make certain changes to its facility to ensure that it is up to code with the AZA’s requirements. Many enclosures will require new double-entry doors and much of the fence line will need to be added to, keeping with AZA guidelines that all fences be at least eight feet tall.

“Most of the changes we need to make are managerial,” Larson said. “How we keep records and what we keep track of.”

For example, the zoo’s monkeys require daily mental stimulation, or enrichment. Each day this process must be meticulously documented, as the AZA inspectors will review all records at the zoo during the accreditation review.

However, with all the changes happening to Willow Park, visitors will likely notice few changes in the day-to-day operations.

“What they will notice is that we should be getting more new and interesting animals,” Larson said. “That’s where the biggest change will be, in the type of animals we can bring to Logan and introduce to the public.”

Willow Park’s new animal additions are yet to be known but they are hoping to expand into more exotic animals.

“I know our director would like to get involved with things like snow leopards or wolverines,” Larson said. “Things that are fascinating to look at but that you maybe haven’t seen by going to one of the bigger zoos.”

While the zoo is just entering the beginning stages of the AZA process, it has big hopes for what will come from gaining accreditation.

“It’s is kind of like a badge of honor,” Larson said. “It says we can take care of animals in such a way that we’re going to be able to promote their welfare and the long-term sustainability of the species.”