Following an earlier International Association of Directors of Zoological Gardens founded in Basel in 1935, a new International Union of Directors of Zoological Gardens (IUDZG) was created in Rotterdam following World War II in 1946. In 1948, IUDZG was a founding member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).


In 2000, IUDZG was renamed the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) to reflect a modern institution working on a global level to build cooperative approaches to common needs, address common issues, share information and knowledge and represent the community in other international bodies such as United Nations Environment or the IUCN or conferences of the parties to global conventions such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) or the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS).

WAZA also represents the global zoo and aquarium community on key 21st century issues such as sustainable development, marine litter, illegal trade, animal welfare, and climate change.