Lincoln Park Zoo has been checked out from top to bottom this week. Not just by visitors eager to see baby piglets or the new pack of African wild dogs but also by an inspection team from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
The inspection is a good thing because it verifies we meet the high standards of the AZA, the body overseeing zoological institutions throughout the United States. Accreditation acts like a seal of approval, reassuring visitors that accredited zoos and aquariums provide the highest level of animal care. To ensure the best from member institutions, the AZA requires them to go through the accreditation process every five years.
This year was our turn. So from Tuesday to Thursday this week we hosted a whirlwind tour by three animal care experts representing the AZA. This wasn’t the first step in the accreditation process; back in February, we had to submit a 1,600-page application detailing everything from safety protocols and animal enrichment to our financial structure.
But now was the time for inspectors to get their feet on the ground. They had full access to Lincoln Park Zoo; they could go anywhere and talk to anyone. They inspected the animal buildings, obviously, but they also spoke with our fundraising experts, zoo scientists and educators.
As you’d expect, animal care is at the heart of the accreditation process, but conservation, education, guest services and dozens of other factors are weighed as well. To be an accredited institution is to join distinguished company: there are just 224 accredited zoos and aquariums in North America.
Today, I met with the inspectors, who shared a preliminary report on their visit. The inspection report, along with our official application, will be reviewed by the AZA accreditation committee in September as they make their final decision. It’s a demanding process but an important one as well, and we’re proud to be part of it.
Of course, the accreditation inspection wasn’t the only thing happening at the zoo this week. I’m happy to report a Blyth’s hornbill chick has hatched at the McCormick Bird House. You won’t be able to see the new arrival. It remains sealed with its mother in a tree-cavity; the father will deliver food until the chick is ready to fledge. But keeper Giana Galeno did grab this snapshot, which will tide us over until the chick emerges in coming months.
A look at the new Blyth's hornbill chick behind its mother—the first time we've ever gotten a picture of one in the nest. (Photo by Giana Galeno)