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Houston Zoo is Making History

A Year Marked by Remarkable Achievement

Houston Zoo is carving out a historic legacy as a premier wildlife conservation organization while making a palpable impact within the Houston metro community. Houston Zoo’s success has played a pivotal role in bolstering the local economy, contributing a staggering $310 million and creating 2,119 job opportunities in the Houston-Woodlands-Sugar Land metropolitan region in 2023 alone. The transformative year was marked by a series of incredible achievements; most recently receiving a perfect inspection by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), a rarity in the long history of the AZA accreditation process.

During the multiple-day accreditation site inspection, AZA inspectors found that the Houston Zoo met all required standards “without exceptions.” AZA has been inspecting aquarium and zoo facilities for accreditation since 1974, on an every-five-year cycle. They have conducted more than 2,700 inspections, with only eight of those resulting in 100% clean evaluations, devoid of any concerns, major or minor, noted by the inspectors. The rigorous accreditation process consists of a lengthy written application in addition to an intensive inspection that covers all aspects of zoo operations, including animal welfare, veterinary care, conservation efforts, education programs, guest services, safety, staffing, finance, and facility management. The site inspection is then followed by an in-person hearing in front of the Accreditation Commission where a final decision is issued.

Fewer than 10% of the approximately 2,800 animal exhibitors licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) meet the comprehensive standards of AZA accreditation. Achieving a 100% clean inspection reflects Houston Zoo’s steadfast commitment to the highest standards of animal care and guest experience.

Houston Zoo has been continuously accredited by the AZA since 1985. The Zoo’s latest accreditation results reflect the organization’s excellence in wildlife conservation, environmental education, guest experience, and providing exceptional care for our animal residents. Houston Zoo being the latest and largest AZA zoo to receive such a distinction further bolsters the Zoo’s ongoing commitment to uphold the highest standards in the industry and meeting our vision of being a leader in the global movement to save wildlife.

“Congratulations to the Houston Zoo for marking 40 years of continuous AZA-accreditation! Achieving and maintaining the world’s gold standard of accreditation over this span of time is remarkable. Doing so, this year, with a completely clean inspection is extraordinary,” said Dan Ashe, President and CEO of AZA. “Houston Zoo stands as a role model for our association as we work collectively to build a world where all animals thrive and all people respect, value, and conserve wildlife and wild places.”

Conservation Successes
In addition to this historic accreditation achievement, Houston Zoo reflects on a year full of remarkable successes in 2023. The Zoo welcomed more than 2.1 million guests, celebrated a number of significant animal births, and unveiled a groundbreaking, first-of-its-kind exhibit.

Significant animal births at the Zoo in 2023 included the hatching of three critically endangered radiated tortoises; a critically endangered northern white-cheeked gibbon, a first for Houston Zoo; and the first successful hatching of a Malagasy sacred ibis chick in North America. These milestones highlight the Zoo’s dedication to species and biodiversity conservation.

Wildlife-saving success also came in the form of the unveiling of the Galápagos Islands exhibit, the world’s first major conservation-focused exhibit based on the legendary archipelago. The 2.5-acre immersive experience showcases iconic Galápagos tortoises, California sea lions, Humboldt penguins, Caribbean iguanas, black-tip reef sharks, Sally lightfoot crabs, and more. Throughout the choreographed experience, there are learning opportunities that engage the Zoo’s two million guests on how they can save animals in the Galápagos Islands and around the world by protecting and caring for our shared ocean.

Economic Contributions

In addition to its outstanding education and conservation efforts in 2023, Houston Zoo made substantial contributions to the local economy. According to a recent economic study, Houston Zoo generated $310 million and created more than 2,100 jobs in the Houston metro in 2023 alone through local business support, tourism initiatives, and capital projects.

  1. Local Business Support: Houston Zoo is committed to sourcing goods and services locally, (for example 500,000 pounds of herbivore feed s came from local farms) and has fostered partnerships with numerous businesses in the community. The Zoo also makes direct purchases from local suppliers, contributing to the regional economy.
  2. Tourism: A significant 23.5% of Houston Zoo’s visitors hail from outside the metropolitan area. These guests contribute to the local economy through expenditures on food, lodging, transportation, and other goods while in the area. Capital Projects and Job Creation: Extended construction periods generate local jobs and stimulate local vendor purchases, further amplifying the economic impact. The Galápagos Islands project, the Zoo’s largest construction endeavor to date, exemplifies the Zoo’s track record of enhancing its facilities while creating benefits for the local economy.

The Zoo’s many achievements in 2023 were met with widespread recognition, ranging from the success of the “Keeping Our World Wild” centennial fundraising campaign ($156 million raised, exceeding its ambitious $150 million goal) to the signing of a memorandum of understanding with Taipei Zoo establishing a sister-zoo relationship mirroring the City of Houston-Taipei sister city partnership.

Houston Zoo leaders received accolades from the community and industry professionals including Houston Business Journals’ Most Admired CEO, Association of Fundraising Professionals Greater Houston Chapter, and Public Relations Society of America.

These accomplishments underscore Houston Zoo’s unwavering dedication to its mission of connecting communities with animals, inspiring action to save wildlife. As the Zoo looks to the future, it remains committed to setting new standards of excellence in conservation, education, and guest experience while continuing to positively impact the Houston community.