The Santa Barbara Zoo celebrated its reaccreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) on Wednesday by parading around a recently awakened grizzly bear. Tiny, as he’s known, is an 8-foot-tall puppet that teaches children daunting subjects like animal welfare and habitat conservation. AZA accreditation is a coveted recognition that places a zoo or aquarium at the top rung of animal exhibitions. Fewer than 10 percent of USDA-licensed wildlife exhibitors are accredited by the AZA.
Santa Barbara Zoo Director Nancy McToldridge said the accreditation is a “stamp of approval” and assures that the zoo obtains excellence in animal care, conservation, and balanced financing. According to McToldridge, the accreditation also enables the public to trust the zoo by demonstrating it can meet impeccably high standards. “We want to distinguish ourselves,” said Kris Vehrs, the executive director of AZA, which has the “highest standards for zoos and aquariums in the world.” Facilities are required to be recertified every five years.
After the award was presented to the chair of the zoo’s Board of Directors, Thomas Caleel, the children rushed the high-tech grizzly puppet in order to more closely admire his height and hair. He walked at his full 8-foot height among the kids, holding conversations, wiggling his eyebrows, and easily catching the attention of anyone walking by.
Parker Doble, an 8-year-old attending Zoo Camp, said he was excited to be there. Wednesday’s activities included making artificial snow and riding the zoo’s miniature train. The Santa Barbara Zoo will debut Tiny and his friends on Father’s Day in the new live stage show “California Tales.”