March 31, 2020

Accreditation is Everything

A New Documentary Reveals the Seedy Underworld and Danger of Unaccredited Zoos

By Brian Aucone, Senior Vice President of Animal Sciences


There are nearly 2,300 “zoos” across the United States, but not all of them are created equal. That reality has once again been brought to the forefront with the recent release of the Netflix docuseries, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, which delves into the underworld of big cat breeding and some of its most infamous characters. The people and places featured in the show are notorious for housing animals in appalling conditions, mismanaging breeding for profit, and perpetuating the black-market wild animal trade and animal cruelty.

Only 10 percent of zoos in the U.S.—238 to be exact—are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which holds its member zoos to the highest standards of physical and mental care for wildlife—standards that are unachievable for the vast majority of other zoos. That means when you visit Denver Zoo and our AZA counterparts around the country, you can rest assured that you are supporting an accredited organization that provides excellent care to its animals and helps save wildlife around the globe.

Here are a few key differentiators between Denver Zoo and other “zoos,” and why you should support AZA-accredited organizations, now more than ever:

  • We have an expert animal care staff that includes nutritionists, behaviorists, caretakers, animal welfare specialists, veterinarians and veterinary technicians, who are all focused on providing the absolute best care to every single one of our nearly 3,000 animals. We are among the most qualified wildlife care experts in the world.
  • We work around the globe to help save wildlife and wild places in countries like Mongolia and Peru, and even here in our own back yard of Colorado. Working with local communities, to understand their needs living alongside wildlife, together we solve complex issues that benefit people and animals. Our expertise and partnerships have created meaningful and lasting conservation impact for thousands of species.
  • We create meaningful connections to wildlife for the millions of guests who walk through our campus. Many of these individuals would never have the opportunity to see wildlife in person, and seeing animals in-person remains the most impactful way to create empathy. We are the window into the wonders of the wild world.
  • We participate in national and international breeding programs, called Species Survival Plans, that ensure a future for the magnificent wildlife in our care. Without these breeding programs, species like the black footed ferret, Panamanian golden frog, and California condor would most likely be extinct.
  • We reach tens of thousands of children around Colorado through our conservation education programs, teaching them the wonders of wildlife and how they can help. On our campus, we reach millions of guests through our comprehensive conservation messaging and educational programming. No one else in Colorado is doing this at our scale.
  • We were the first zoo to receive the AZA’s Green Award, which recognizes the efforts of zoos and aquariums take to reduce their environmental impact, and we continue to strive to operate in the most environmentally, socially and economically friendly way possible.

When you visit Denver Zoo and other AZA-accredited facilities, you are making a positive impact on the thousands of animals in our care and their wild counterparts around the world. We look forward to welcoming you back to the Zoo in the near future, and greatly appreciate any donations to our Emergency Support Fund that help us offset the cost of caring for animals during our closure due to COVID-19.



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