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

In 2000, IUDZG was renamed World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) to reflect a modern institution working on a global level to build cooperative approaches to common needs, tackle common issues, share information and knowledge and represent the community in other international bodies such as IUCN or conferences of the parties to global conventions such as CITES, CBD or CMS.