West Orange, NJ – Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. announced that Essex County Turtle Back Zoo has earned accreditation for the first time from the Zoological Association of America (ZAA). The five-year accreditation was awarded on Monday, April 3rd and is good through 2022. The ZAA is the second zoological organization to accredit Turtle Back Zoo; the facility has received accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums three times. Its first five-year AZA accreditation came in 2006.

“We have transformed Turtle Back Zoo into a resource for recreation, education and conservation. Being an accredited facility ensures the public that our animals are well-cared for, our exhibits meet the highest standards and our overall facility is well-managed,” DiVincenzo said. “To be accredited by two independent agencies is a great achievement and I commend our Zoo staff, volunteer Docents and Zoological Society for working tirelessly so that Turtle Back Zoo meets the highest standards,” he added.

ZAA accreditation is a multi-phase process and establishes an extremely high bar with respect to professional standards and best management practices. The accreditation process usually takes up to one year to complete and reaccreditation is required every five years. ZAA accredited zoos are required to go through an in-depth application and review process, which includes on-site inspections by a team of experts from around the country. Animal care and husbandry, veterinarian care, nutrition, enrichment, security and safety, facility aesthetics and maintenance, record keeping, and a thorough review of policies, procedures, and protocols are reviewed during the accreditation process.

The roots of the ZAA can be traced back to 1987, when an organization was formed to focus on “animals only” related issues and concerns, without consideration of marketing, graphics, gift shops, etc. Its mission is to promote responsible ownership, management, conservation, and propagation of animals in privately and publicly funded facilities through professional standards in husbandry, animal care, safety and ethics.

Attendance at Turtle Back Zoo reached an all-time high of 795,558 in 2016 and the zoo has operated as a self-sustaining facility with revenue collected exceeding operating expenses for the last nine years. In addition, Turtle Back earned its third five-year accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in 2016, a clear recognition of its commitment to the highest standards of animal care, ethics, conservation and education. Turtle Back also has been named the Best Zoo in New Jersey by NJ Monthly magazine four times and three times has received a Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor.com.

The Zoo is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is $15 for adults, $12 for children and senior citizens, and free for children younger than 2 years. For more information, call 973-731-5800 or visit www.essexcountynj.org/turtlebackzoo.

Revitalizing Essex County Turtle Back Zoo

 Since taking office in 2003, DiVincenzo has spearheaded over $75 million in upgrades to Essex County Turtle Back Zoo, which have included developing the African Adventure with four Masai giraffes; a Sea Turtle Recovery Center, a new Educational Building; the Carousel with 33 figures of endangered animals; the Sea Lion Sound Exhibit with sea lions, sharks and sting rays; the Big Cat Country Exhibit with jaguars and cougars; Tam-ring Gibbons Reserve with white cheeked gibbons apes, Reeves muntjac and white naped cranes; Australian Exhibit that features kangaroos, wallabies, emus and over 500 birds in the Aviary; Reptile and Education Center, open air dining pavilion and playground, Penguin Exhibit, Otter Exhibit, Wolf Exhibit, Alligator Exhibit, North American Animal Exhibit, Black Bear Exhibit, Animal Hospital, Essex Farm Petting Zoo and South American Animal Exhibit; renovating the Food Pavilion for year-round use and making upgrades to the entrance as well as fencing and infrastructure to meet AZA requirements. Funding has been provided through Green Acres grants, existing capital improvement bonds, or donations from the Zoological Society, Essex County Parks Foundation, corporations or private foundations. Corporations that have provided support include Investors Bank, Prudential Financial, Inc., Wells Fargo, PNC Bank, PSE&G, Verizon, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, Coca Cola, Capital One Bank, TD Bank, Aramark, Covanta Energy, Matrix Development Group and OxyMagic carpet cleaning.

The Essex County Park System was created in 1895 and is the first county park system established in the United States. The Park System consists of more than 6,000 acres and has 23 parks, five reservations, an environmental center, a zoo, Treetop Adventure Course, ice skating rink, roller skating rink, three public golf courses, golf driving range, two miniature golf courses, three off-leash dog facilities, a castle and the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens. Turtle Back Zoo is located in Essex County’s South Mountain Reservation and was opened to the public in 1963.