COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium says it is appealing the loss of its most important accreditation last week but will retain that accreditation during the 30-day appeals process.
The decision announced Wednesday by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, considered the nation’s top zoo-accrediting body, was a major blow to an institution once widely admired in its industry and by the general public.
WSYX-TV reports that the zoo sent a long letter to members Friday night, saying it would remain accredited through the process of its appeal, which must be filed by the end of the month. If the appeal is unsuccessful, the earliest the zoo will be able to apply for accreditation would be September 2022.
Zoo officials said the ruling would not affect operations or the experience of visitors, but the lack of accreditation will bar its participation in species survival and breeding programs, “which will impact species conservation programs.”
The accrediting group cited concerns about the zoo’s animal programs department and inappropriate businesses practices by its former leaders. Investigations and reviews by the Ohio attorney general’s office and the Ohio auditor are pending.
The loss of accreditation came a day after the Ohio zoo had announced its new leader.
The accrediting body also voiced concerns about the zoo’s acquisition of ambassador animals. A recent documentary, “The Conservation Game,” raised questions about how celebrity conservationists, including the famous Jack Hanna, acquired exotic animals. The zoo has since cut ties with animal vendors who don’t meet certain standards of animal care.
After a recent visit, staffers from the accrediting group hailed the changes in leadership and the animal programs department, but officials said they want to see that the changes can be sustained. The zoo suggested that accreditation could have been tabled for a year to give the zoo “time for the changes and improvements to be sustained for a longer time."