what is zoo accreditation and why is it important?

One thing that most visitors arriving at Brookfield Zoo may not know is that the zoo is accredited by several professional organizations. Receiving accreditation means the zoo has been evaluated independently by the accrediting organization and has met or exceeded the standards of best practice set by experts in the profession. Accreditation is important because it provides you behind-the-scenes knowledge about the high standards of animal care held by the organization that you would not normally see during an everyday visit. It can also tell you about their standards for ongoing research, education, and outreach programs.

Brookfield Zoo upholds both governmental regulations and standards set by several professional organizations. Learning about which accreditations a zoo holds on top of the governmental standards they maintain is a great way to learn more about your favorite zoo or any other zoo you may visit. Brookfield zoo is regulated by the federal government through the United States Department of Agriculture and abides by the Animal Welfare Act (established 1966), the Endangered Species Act (established 1973), and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (established 1972). In addition to following these laws, Brookfield Zoo has elected to acquire several additional accreditations that align with our goals and affirm our high standards for animal welfare and visitor programs. Brookfield Zoo is accredited or certified by the Association for Zoos and Aquariums, ArbNet, Alliance for Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, American Humane, and International Marine Animal Trainers Association. Learn more about each accreditation or certification below.

Association of Zoos and Aquariums

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) has been the primary accrediting body for zoos and aquariums for over 40 years. Applicants for accreditation are evaluated by a group of independent experts that conduct a multi-day on-site inspection where the applicant is measured against the established standards and best practices of the profession. Accreditation is only granted to zoos and aquariums that meet or exceed all standards related to animal welfare, veterinary care, conservation, education, guest services, physical facilities, safety, staffing, finance, and governing body. For applicants who meet these high standards, AZA accreditation is granted for five years. Zoos must complete this process in full every five years and meet the new, updated standards to maintain a current accreditation. AZA continually elevates its standards based on the latest science as we improve our understanding of the species under our care. 



ArbNet is an interactive, collaborative, international community of arboreta and tree-focused professionals. Their goal is to facilitate the sharing of knowledge, experience, and raise professional standards through the ArbNet Arboretum Accreditation Program. Brookfield Zoo is Level II accredited which means that we have more than 100 labeled species of trees or woody plants on the grounds, have paid staff who curate our collection, and have enhanced public education programs.

Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums

The Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums is for organizations that connect visitors with dolphins, beluga whales, killer whales, sea lions, seals, sea otters, walruses, and polar bears. Alliance accreditation indicates adherence to the most comprehensive and stringent standards for the care of marine mammals. To be accredited, the zoo or aquarium is required to meet or exceed standards related to animal health and wellness, applied animal behavior, training and enrichment, water and environmental quality, population sustainability, transportation, scientific research and conservation, and public education. To maintain accreditation, organizations must complete a comprehensive, on-site inspection over the course of two days to demonstrate that they meet or exceed all requirements to a team of experts in the field of marine mammals. 

Humane Certified™ by American Humane

Brookfield Zoo was the first zoo in the World to achieve a Humane Certification from American Humane. American Humane's Humane Conservation™ initiative is a certification program dedicated to helping ensure welfare, humane treatment of animals living in zoos, aquariums, and animal parks. American Humane's high standards were developed by third-party, respected veterinarians, and experts in the fields of exotic animal welfare, animal science, zoology, and ethics. To earn this certification, Brookfield Zoo underwent a comprehensive, scientific, and evidence-based on-site audit by American Humane that solely evaluated the welfare humane treatment of the animals. American Humane contracts independent expert evaluators who are not currently employed at any zoo or aquarium to conduct the audits. In addition, spot checks by American Humane can occur at any time during the certification term. The standards provide verification to the public that the certified organization engages in good practices and assurances that they can support them in good conscience.

International Marine Animal Trainers Association Accreditation for Animal Trainer Development Programs

The International Marine Animal Trainers Association (IMATA) provides and advances the professional, effective, and humane care of marine animals by fostering communication between marine animal science professionals through training, public display, research, husbandry, conservation, and education. Training animal care staff in the science and art of training marine mammals is a crucial component of effectively caring for marine mammals in zoos and aquariums. IMATA’s Accreditation for Animal Trainer Development Programs is awarded to organizations that have exceptional systems for teaching animal care staff how to implement positive reinforcement-based animal training programs. To earn accreditation, experts reviewed Brookfield Zoo’s marine mammal trainer development program to determine if the program met or exceeded IMATA’s high standards for providing educational opportunities, knowledge of operant conditioning, and implementation of modern training techniques.

At Brookfield Zoo, each trainer is evaluated on their knowledge of positive reinforcement-based training and provided feedback to allow them to grow and advance their skills. The marine mammal care staff has access to a large collection of resources to continually learn and enhance their understanding of operant conditioning. In addition, new staff follows a step-by-step plan to learn to train the animals while under the supervision of an experienced mentor.

Lisa Lauderdale, PhD
Animal Welfare Scientist
Published August 21, 2021