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New AZA Animal Welfare Standard

Update on 1.5.0.  The new welfare standard for AZA accreditation.

Scott P. Terrell, DVM, Dipl. ACVP

AZA Accreditation Commission / Animal Welfare Committee liaison


Although animal welfare has always been core to AZA’s accreditation process, a common topic of conversation at the 2018 AZA Annual meeting in Seattle, WA was the new animal welfare standard, 1.5.0.   The standard has been in place for approximately 10 months (as of October 2018) and all accredited aquariums and zoos should be making progress toward compliance with the standard.   The “word on the street” at the meeting was that many aquariums and zoos are working rapidly toward implementing new training and assessment processes that focus on animal welfare.   Some institutions have really solid programs already in place and the AZA staff is working on getting additional examples up on the accreditation resource site as reference for those institutions still developing or refining their process/program.   The reality of the new standard is that our existing animal care professionals (veterinarians, keepers, aquarists, scientists, etc.) are the best positioned (and most qualified) people in our aquariums and zoos to evaluate welfare.  In fact, those professionals are already assessing welfare every day.    The standard is really focused on defining a process to ensure those welfare evaluations are done strategically to meet the needs of each institution to advance animal welfare.     Many conversations in Seattle centered around the “core” elements of the new standard.  The core elements of the standard are as follows:


  • The evaluation process should be both proactive and reactive in nature.
  • Individuals assessing welfare should have at least a basic level of training in welfare science/concepts.
  • Each institution should include a strategic focus on welfare assessment at the holistic collection level but should also be able to identify life events or other triggers for welfare assessment at a more focused/detailed level (examples include but are not limited to: individual assessment, exhibit assessment, individual group or tank assessment, etc.)
  • Ensuring that each institution is using a defined framework to evaluate animal welfare.  This framework can and should be customized to the specific needs of each institution.   Common frameworks typically involve some combination of elements such as health, nutrition, environment, behavior, choice/control, and affective states.  
  • Ensuring that each institution is documenting their welfare assessment process, assessments, and the actions taken as a result (if any).


For the AAZV audience, this new standard will continue to integrate veterinary professionals into the overall management of an aquarium or zoo.   Veterinarians often play a key role not only in the assessment and management of physical health, but in all other aspects of animal welfare as well.   We’ve even got some veterinary colleagues out there with board certification in animal welfare ( )!    For more information on the new welfare standard, please visit the AZA website accreditation resource page ( )




-- Scott P. Terrell, DVM, Dipl. ACVP

Director, Animal and Science Operations

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