The Utica Zoo is currently in the process of preparing for its 2024 accreditation application with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Accredited institutions are required to reapply for accreditation every five years and undergo a rigorous application and inspection process. The Utica Zoo initially achieved AZA accreditation in the fall of 2018, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the expiration date was extended through 2024.
This prestigious accreditation evaluates and scores every facet of the zoo’s operations, including animal care and husbandry, animal well-being and collection composition, physical structures, grounds and habitats, governance practices, personnel, finances, visitor experience, and more. Each year, AZA standards are updated, with the addition of over 70 new standards this year. There are over 2800 animal entities such as zoos, safari parks, animal parks etc; only 237 are currently accredited with the AZA.
Over the past five years, the Utica Zoo has undertaken numerous upgrades and introduced new exhibits in anticipation of the 2024 AZA application. A sampling of the improvements and additions include:
- In 2018, renovations were completed for the white-handed gibbon and spider monkey exhibits.
- In 2020, three sibling African Painted Dogs were introduced to Utica arriving from the Cincinnati Zoo.
- In 2021, In preparation for a female Hartmann’s mountain zebra and her foal joining the Utica Zoo’s collection, a new barn was constructed and outside holding area was added.
- Most notably, the new 5000 sq ft. visitor center was opened and in April of 2023, and in July the zoo unveiled the new North American River Otter exhibit and welcomed female otters, Briar and Lily.
As the zoo enters 2024, it has several exciting projects on the horizon. This includes the completion of a new African Crested Porcupine exhibit by the end of 2023 and a comprehensive remodeling of the Wildlife Hall. The Wildlife Hall currently houses more than ten indoor exhibits including Burmese pythons, turtles, and other reptiles, and had housed cotton-top tamarins.
As part of the Wildlife Hall remodeling plans, the Utica Zoo has announced the decommissioning of the cotton-top tamarin exhibit. This decision was made after transferring the remaining tamarin, Dharma, estimated to be 19 years old, to a wildlife sanctuary where she will join other companion tamarins. The choice was made in light of the recent deaths of two male cotton-top tamarins Dharma’s offspring, both aged 17 years, and with the guidance of the Utica Zoo Veterinary team, the Species Survival Plan (SSP), and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which issues the Zoo’s Class C – Exhibitor license.
Andria Heath, Executive Director of the Utica Zoo, explained, “After completing a well-being assessment for Dharma and following the guidance to not house a lone primate, the Utica Zoo animal care leadership team carefully considered the options for the animals in the Wildlife Hall. While she will be greatly missed, we find comfort in knowing that this decision is made in the interest of Dharma’s welfare.”
Many of the animals currently housed in the Wildlife Hall will remain at the Utica Zoo, while some will be relocated to other zoos and animal institutions. The Utica Zoo is actively collaborating with the USDA, AZA, and other institutions to facilitate the transfer of the remaining animals.