Ever since its inception in 1980, the Association of Zoological Horticulture (AZH) has been dedicated to the advancement of zoo horticulture in zoological parks and aquariums. This dedication can be seen in AZH’s creation of its Zoo Horticulturist Certification Program. The program produced its first class of graduates in 2011. The program is offering its membership training that emphasizes the best practices in horticulture from the specific perspective of how these are utilized in the zoo and aquarium environments. Among the program’s goals are to provide an integrated and comprehensive training program on the unique aspects of zoo and aquarium horticulture that will ensure the highest level of excellence, technical expertise and professionalism among AZH members. These professional development courses also promote the exchange of ideas and networking opportunities among zoo horticulture colleagues.
Certification consists of four two-credit core courses and two elective courses at one credit each. Horticulturists who participate in a course and who successfully pass the in-class examinations will earn credits towards the 10 credits required for certification. The core courses, as determined by the AZH Board, are: Integrated Pest Management, Soils, Exhibit Design I, and Browse and Toxic Plants. Elective courses will include Water Management, Plant Conservation/Education, Record-keeping, and Design II. Initially, the training has been part of the schedule of the AZH Annual Conference. The first full-day training course on Integrated Pest Management (IPM) was offered in conjunction with the 2007 AZH Annual Conference in Tulsa. At last year’s conference in Cleveland, the IPM course was repeated and the Soils course was offered for the first time. At this year’s conference in Jacksonville the Soils course will be repeated and the Exhibit Design I course will be introduced. This pattern of repeating a course and adding a new course will be followed until the creation and establishment of all the courses necessary for attaining certification has been completed.
Creating the courses and administering them has been, and will continue to be, a full out endeavor and one of the primary areas of work for AZH over the past three years. The development of each course begins with the assignment of a course administrator who works closely with the outside consultant AZH has hired to facilitate course development and management. This team first defines the course goals and outcomes, and determines pertinent topics that need to be covered in the course. Instructors with relevant expertise are then selected from within the AZH membership and from universities, businesses, agencies and other organizations in proximity to the conference location where the course will be offered. Registration for the courses has been limited in size to 20 students per course. Study materials are sent to registered participants in advance to help them review some basic concepts and prepare for the class. All courses have incorporated a combination of lecture, small group exercises, as well as hands-on “lab” work in the classroom and on zoo grounds. Participants receive a comprehensive course notebook and additional relevant publications.
Courses are currently offered on an annual basis as part of the AZH Annual Conference. The goal is to offer the courses regionally and with greater frequency. When all certification courses have been developed and pilot tested, the AZH Board will consider offering courses on line, or as a comprehensive, week-long program. This would enable participants to attain certification in a short, intense period rather than having certification take several years to achieve.
AZH’s mission is to promote excellence in zoo horticulture. The Zoo Horticulturist Certification Program supports this mission by providing its graduates with the tools they need to apply new skills and practice quality horticulture in a zoo or aquarium environment. Certification will advance the profession of horticulture within the zoo and aquarium industry and enhance the ability of horticulturists to contribute to the success of their organization’s mission.
Instructor Carol Glenister, IPM Labs, Inc., works with Rick Knight (Topeka Zoological Park) to identify insect pests with a hand lens at the inaugural course in Tulsa in 2007. Photo by Terry O’Connor