South Korea’s most popular theme park, Everland, has become the first zoo in Asia to obtain the world’s highest level of accreditation as assessed by the U.S.-based Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA).
Everland’s Zootopia zone is home to tigers, lions, pandas and many more species housed in a varied and rich environment, including the 53,000-square-meter Lost Valley.
The Samsung C&T-operated facility, also much-loved for its other magical attractions and thrilling rollercoasters, was presented with a coveted AZA certificate on September 8.
What it means to earn AZA accreditation
AZA certification is only awarded to the highest-level zoos which are committed to preserving endangered species and strong animal welfare standards.
Such facilities need to qualify by passing international criteria assessing their operating systems, staff capabilities, educational and research functions, and safety for both visitors and zookeepers.
Only 10 percent of 2,800 wildlife institutions in North America are accredited by AZA. Everland now stands alone in receiving the honor among zoos in Asia, but the region does have three accredited aquariums in Singapore and Hong Kong.
A commitment to animal welfare
AZA inspectors visited Everland last June for a four-day field trip to witness Zootopia for themselves. In particular, they praised the facilities and conservation education at Tiger Valley and Panda World, as well as highlighting Lost Valley’s behavioral enrichment program and the way Fantastic Wings shows the ecology of birds.
This acclaim is especially deserved by Zootopia’s staff, who are known to form close bonds with the park’s animals. Their love is a great basis for welfare, while consistency of care has been ensured through the Everland Zookeeper Education Course. For example, its animal behavior enrichment program has improved animal breeding management.
Nevertheless, in order to earn AZA accreditation, Everland has worked hard since 2017 to put various measures in place, including advancing its approach to animal management in order to achieve the very highest standards of welfare and care. This has meant adopting AZA’s animal keeping manual and record management system, AZA’s expert mentoring, and expanding research and educational facilities.
“It was an opportunity to apply advanced systems and develop human capacity to the next level,” explains Everland Zoo chief Chung Dong-hee. “We will continue to develop Everland into an ecological zoo where both animals and visitors are happy.”
The AZA accreditation also enables active international exchange and cooperation for the conservation of endangered species, building on Everland’s previous work with various domestic and international organizations such as the KTLCF (Tiger & Leopard Conservation Fund in Korea) and the WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature). As well as being important for nature, that can only be a good thing for the happiness of Zootopia’s beloved residents!