Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. announced that Essex County Turtle Back Zoo has earned accreditation from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ independent Accreditation Commission. Accreditation recognizes an institution’s commitment to providing quality animal care, education programs and promoting conservation. This is the second consecutive time that Turtle Back Zoo has received AZA accreditation. AZA made the announcement during its annual convention on Tuesday, September 13th in Atlanta, Ga. 

“There is no question that Turtle Back Zoo has become a destination for families and individuals who are looking for entertaining and educational activities. Receiving AZA accreditation validates the improvements we have made and programs we offer, and gives the public peace of mind that the animals at Turtle Back are well-cared for and the facility is safe,” DiVincenzo said. “I want to thank Zoo Director Dr. Jeremy Goodman, the Zoo staff, and our volunteer Docents and Zoological Society members for working hard every day to maintain the high standards set by AZA so that our visitors can have an enjoyable and memorable visit. They understand that having accreditation is one of my priorities and that it contributes significantly to the success of Turtle Back,” he added.

“Under the leadership of our County Executive, we have been committed to making Turtle Back Zoo a modern, first-class facility that is safe for the animals and an exciting place for people of all ages to visit,” Turtle Back Zoo Director Dr. Jeremy Goodman said. “Earning AZA accreditation for a second consecutive time is a tremendous accomplishment and is an indication of the high quality of care we give to our animals and the attention we give to making visits exciting and educational,” he added.

To be accredited, Turtle Back Zoo underwent a thorough investigation to ensure it has and will continue to meet ever-rising standards, which include animal care, veterinary programs, conservation, education, and safety. AZA requires zoos and aquariums to successfully complete this rigorous accreditation process every five years in order to be members of the Association. 

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“By meeting high Association of Zoos and Aquariums Accreditation Standards, Turtle Back Zoo has demonstrated its leadership among zoos and aquariums,” AZA President and CEO Jim Maddy said. “Only the best of the best rise to this level, and we congratulate the professionals at Turtle Back for their hard work,” he added.

The accreditation process includes a detailed application and a meticulous on-site inspection by a team of trained zoo and aquarium professionals. The inspecting team observes all aspects of the institution’s operation in areas such as animal care; keeper training; safety for visitors, staff, and animals; educational programs; conservation efforts; veterinary programs; financial stability; risk management; visitor services; and other areas. The inspection team prepares an extensive written report for AZA’s independent Accreditation Commission. Finally, top officials are interviewed at a formal Commission hearing, after which accreditation is granted, tabled or denied.

Revitalizing Essex County Turtle Back Zoo

There are several new attractions being opened at Turtle Back Zoo this fall, including the Treetop Adventure Course with rope bridges, zip lines and other climbing features 35 feet in the air on Saturday, September 24th; the Big Cat Country with jaguars and cougars in a Southwestern themed exhibit on Saturday, October 8th and McLoone’s Boathouse Restaurant in October. There are also plans to develop a Sea Lion Exhibit with a shark touch tank, which is scheduled to open in 2013 and coincide with Turtle Back Zoo’s 50th anniversary.

Essex County earned its first five-year accreditation from AZA in 2006. Since taking office in 2003, DiVincenzo has spearheaded over $20 million in upgrades to Essex County Turtle Back Zoo, which have included developing the Carousel, which features 33 figures of endangered animals; building the Tam-ring Gibbons Reserve with 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 Pepsi 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 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 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 20 parks, five reservations, an environmental center, a zoo, ice skating rink, roller skating rink, three public golf courses, golf driving range, miniature golf course, 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.

Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, education, science, and recreation. The AZA logo provides assurance that the institution is dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for visitors and a better future for all living things. AZA is a leader in global wildlife conservation, and a link to helping animals in their native habitats. For more information, visit