AAZ encourages safe and responsible interaction with captive wildlife.
There are several prominent zoological associations in the U.S., including AAZ, AZA, and ZAA. These groups are non-governmental entities whose power exists only within their membership institutions. While all of the organizations profess similar goals, including quality of care for captive wildlife within their member zoos, fundamental philosophical differences exist between the associations.
Each association sets its own requirements for membership and accreditation, based on organizational philosophy. Individual zoos often have their own (very valid) practices which may not be consistent with an association's constantly changing policies. Since each zoo and aquarium is inherently different from all others, a single association cannot hope to meet the needs of all zoological facilities, hence the need for more than one associations.
What is different about AAZ?
Many zoos have a strict "no contact" policy. This includes both the public and the zoo keepers. This policy is appropriate for many of the public zoos, where keepers work a typical 40 hour week and have neither the experience nor the time to develop deeper relationships with the animals they care for. This policy does not work best for all zoos however.
AAZ encourages safe and responsible interaction with captive wildlife. Almost all zoo animals are born in captivity and will not be returned to the wild. For this reason, animals who are able to develop a deeper relationship with humans, while living in a human environment, demonstrate less stress and live more enriched lives. These animals are more "well-adjusted" and enjoy a better quality of life. They also have the potential to play a more crucial role as "animal ambassadors", both teaching and inspiring the public to care about the natural world. While this approach may not be appropriate for all zoological institutions, for those that have the resources and expertise, this style of husbandry provides a more enjoyable and meaningful experience for both the animals and visiting guests.