Sea Turtle

North American Zoo Conservation

Association of Zoos and Aquariums

The Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) represents virtually every major professionally operated zoological park, aquarium, wildlife park, and oceanarium in North America. Each member institution must be accredited by the AZA and follow it's Code of Professional Ethics. Accreditation procedures involve facility inspections and the evaluation of education and conservation programs. Accreditation is reviewed at least once every five years. All four Sea World parks and Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida are accredited by the AZA.

Objectives of the AZA

The highest priority of the AZA is wildlife conservation. Specifically, the objectives of the AZA are:

  • To promote the benefits of zoological parks and aquariums as institutions dedicated to the enrichment of human and natural resources
  • To encourage continued improvement of member institutions through the development of high ethical, educational, and scientific standards, as well as encouraging interinstitutional cooperation and distribution of information
  • To help ease the exchange of animals between institutions, with the cooperation of government agencies
  • To foster sound captive animal management practices
  • To advance public education on the need for wildlife conservation and preservation, while becoming the leader in the preservation of rare and endangered animals

AZA Programs

Wildlife Conservation and Management Committee (WCMC)

The Wildlife Conservation and Management Committee (WCMC), in conjunction with the AZA Director of Conservation and Science, is responsible for overseeing the captive propagation, animal management, conservation, and scientific efforts of the AZA. The WCMC includes two subcommittees: Studbooks, and Species Survival Plans/Taxon Advisory Groups/Fauna Interest Groups. By recommending changes in existing policies, programs, and organizations, the WCMC and its subcommittees serve as guides for future conservation programs.


AZA studbooks are primarily used as a tool for monitoring and managing captive populations and can be either regional or international. Studbook information is often used to make breeding decisions that ensure genetic variation.

Endangered species have the highest priority for studbook development; however, non-endangered species are also eligible for studbooks. As of 1994, Sea World keeps two endangered species studbooks, one for the white-winged wood duck (Cairina scutulata), and one for the red-fronted macaw (Ara rubrogeys). SeaWorld also keeps the studbook for the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), a non-endangered species. Requests for copies of the international studbooks are submitted to the Studbook Coordinator (the editor of International Zoo Yearbook), and endorsed by the IUCN/World Conservation Union and the IUDZG.

Species Survival Plans/Taxon Advisory Groups/Fauna Interest Groups

An AZA Species Survival Plan (SSP) is one of many Regional Captive Propagation Programs worldwide. Its goal is to preserve, in zoos and aquariums, species that are threatened or endangered in the wild. It's based on the belief that healthy captive animal populations can help prevent extinction through reintroduction of animals, supportive breeding, and research. The SSP is designed to be a supplement, not an alternative, to preservation in nature.

Selection criteria for the formation of an SSP are based largely on recommendations by the IUCN/World Conservation Union, the International Council for Bird Preservation, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Other considerations for selection are the realistic odds of successful captive breeding, the number of individual animals presently in captivity, and the space and resources available for the program. As of 1992, over 65 species had SSP's, including the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) and red wolf (Canis rufus).

SSP species are designated by the AZA Wildlife Conservation Management Committee (WCMC) in consultation with its SSP subcommittee and in accordance with set SSP criteria. An SSP includes a species Master Plan (a regional breeding strategy for the species) and Husbandry Manual (a description of the current techniques and potential problems in caring for the species). SeaWorld and Busch Gardens are SSP Participating Institutions for the following species:

  • Asian small-clawed otter (Aonyx cinerea)
  • Humboldt Penguin (Spheniscus humboldti)
  • Micronesian kingfisher (Halcyon cinnamomina)
  • Hawaiian nene goose (Branta sandvicensis)
  • palm cockatoo (Probosciger aterrimus)
  • lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla)
  • orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus)
  • chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes)
  • ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata)
  • Asian elephant (Elephas maxius)
  • black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis)
  • scimitar-horned oryx (Oryx dammah)
  • Grevy's zebra (Equus grevyi)

Fauna Interest Groups (FIGs) were formed to directly involve zoos and aquariums in the preservation of native wildlife habitats and species recovery plans. FIGs help coordinate and promote the conservation activities of institutions in different geographic regions and foster cooperation with the respective foreign governments. The FIGs goals are to help establish nature reserves, generate support for existing parks, conduct vital field research, educate the public about conservation, and obtain animals for cooperative captive breeding programs.

The purpose of a Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) is to evaluate the present conditions surrounding a broad group of animals (e.g., marine mammals) and then prioritize the different species in the group for possible captive programs. The high priority species are recommended for Species Survival Plans and studbooks. A TAG usually consists of a diverse group of experts, including field biologists, zoo professionals, and representatives from various conservation organizations.

Other Zoological Organizations

There are countless professional zoological organizations that are directly or indirectly involved with species conservation. These organizations share information through publications and meetings, both nationally and internationally. Because of the sheer number, only a few can be mentioned here.

Veterinary associations that promote excellence in captive animal medicine include the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians (AAZV) and the International Association for Aquatic Animal Medicine (IAAAM). The American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK) is dedicated to quality animal care and supports public education on the need for preservation of natural resources and animal life. Animal trainers also play an active role in captive animal care and conservation. The International Marine Animal Trainers Association (IMATA) promotes professional and responsible captive animal training and care.