Facilities Design and AZA Accreditation

The 2019 AZA Accreditation Standards includes a section on Physical Facilities that is rather brief given the importance of your facilities for both animals and humans. I thought it may be helpful for me to share my experience and some things that your team can do immediately and in the near-future.

1.       Consider the little things at your zoo that your staff doesn’t see at all because they’ve seen them so often.

As an example, there’s a chain of grocery stores here in Florida that regularly rotates its managers so that they can spot (and fix) the uglies that have ceased jumping out at the staff who spend 40+ hours a week in that space. The weird stain in aisle 3 that needs professional attention, holiday cards and signage from months earlier, a broken dryer in the bathroom. Little things that have nothing to do with the quality of the produce, yet affect the perception of the quality of the produce.

 Likewise, I’ve visited a number of zoos that have seemed somewhat blind to the things that are detracting from an otherwise good experience. Whether it’s rational or not, little bits of clutter or hastily made signs will affect perception of your operations and caretaking. My suggestion would be to think of the most brutally honest Marie Kondo person you know to inventory your zoo with the magic of KonMari in exchange for a day pass. If you can find out what disturbs the Zen of your spaces for your visitors, and fix it, you will elevate the impression for everyone – including AZA visitors.

2.       Before you build or change an area, think critically about whether it will be in harmony with the existing structures and character of your zoo. If you’ve ever renovated a section of your house with great results, but ended up with confused and unhappy surrounding rooms, this is what I’m talking about on a larger scale. In my opinion, this is part of standard 10.1.2, planning for current and anticipated renovations. Although the standard is written from an operations standpoint, design matters a great deal! There are certainly renovations that your facilities team can probably handle on their own. However, I would suggest that it pays dividends to have a professional’s help for the sake of continuity between your exhibits, visual interest within the exhibit itself, and most importantly, animal welfare.

3.       As long as you’re looking at your equipment and life support systems for standard 10.2, it may be worth getting a consultation to see where design and technology can improve quality of life for your critters, help with conservation, and lower your annual expenditures. For example, our Caribbean Coast project at Stone Zoo is one of very few zoological habitat designs for Caribbean Flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber) with a salt water system to match the brackish water of the flock’s natural habitat. Best of all, the system is designed to operate 12 months a year and on the rare occasion that shelter is needed, the water shifts with the flock into a new nearby aquatic off-exhibit facility and back out to the exhibit when the birds return. Well-designed systems like this improve the health of your animals and save both water and money.