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Columbus Zoo and Aquarium accreditation loss appeal denied

Columbus Zoo And Aquarium

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium says its appeal of the loss of its most important accreditation has been denied.

The zoo said Monday that the board of directors of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums denied the zoo’s “strong appeal ” seeking the restoration of its accreditation or tabling of the issue until next year. As a result, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium cannot apply for accreditation again before September.

The accreditation denial in October by the association, considered the nation’s top zoo-accrediting body, was a major blow to the nation’s second-largest zoo, an institution once widely admired in its industry and by the general public and associated with celebrity director-turned-ambassador Jack Hanna.

Zoo officials said earlier that the ruling would not affect operations or the experience of visitors, but the lack of accreditation would bar its participation in species survival and breeding programs, “which will impact species conservation programs.”

New president and chief executive officer Tom Schmid called Monday’s decision disappointing but said the zoo was “moving forward.”

“In the last nine months, the zoo team has moved mountains to make transformative changes that continue to make us a better zoo with new team members, new policies, and more oversights that were in place at the time of the AZA inspection in July,” sad Schmid, who took over a week ago and participated in the appeal.

The accrediting group had cited concerns about the zoo’s animal programs department and inappropriate business practices by its former leaders. Investigations and reviews by the Ohio attorney general’s office and the Ohio auditor are pending.

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 Hanna, acquired exotic animals. The zoo has since cut ties with animal vendors who don’t meet certain standards of animal care.

Former president and CEO Dan Ashe told The Associated Press in an interview last month that assuming the zoo had to reapply for accreditation in September 2022, the facility would be inspected in the fall or winter of next year with a decision tied to a hearing in March 2023.

Schmid said Monday that accreditation by a third-party professional association was important, “so we are exploring all options to continue fulfilling our mission and to continue our work with endangered and threatened species that need our help.”

“Without question, the care and welfare of the animals remains our top priority,” he said.

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