By Nicole Cowdell
The Willow Park Zoo in Logan is taking the first steps toward accreditation with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums — and officials know the process won’t be an easy one.
“They require a lot of hurdles, lots of different records and letters of recommendation from one or two institutions we’ve worked with before,” zoo director Troy 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.”
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.
The AZA accredits zoos and aquariums that have met strict standards for animal living environments, health, nutrition, animal enrichment, veterinary care and overall safety guidelines. Cooper believes 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.
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, Willow Park’s zoological manager.
Among other changes, many enclosures will require new double-entry doors and much of the fence line will need work to meet the AZA’s standard that all fences need to be at least eight feet tall.
But a lot of the changes will be managerial — “how we keep records and what we keep track of,” Larson said.
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.
Visitors, however, 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.”
The zoo has yet to decide which animals will be pursued, although there are some contenders.
“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.”
Officials said they’re not certain yet of the timeline, but have 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.”