Dec 17, 2021 - News

New Columbus Zoo CEO's focus is trust, reputation

New Columbus Zoo and Aquarium president and CEO Tom Schmid poses for a professional headshot in front of trees
New Columbus Zoo and Aquarium president and CEO Tom Schmid started Dec. 6. Photo courtesy of the zoo

New Columbus Zoo president and CEO Tom Schmid spent years helping zoos earn accreditation through inspections and staff mentoring.

What's happening: A week after Schmid's Dec. 6 start date, the association stripped the Columbus Zoo of its accreditation for the first time in 41 years following a tumultuous 2021 marred by two scandals.

Why it matters: Schmid's arrival is a reset in leadership and culture. He says he'll work to not only restore the zoo's accreditation, but its reputation.

What he's saying: "Fundamentally I don't agree with it, but I do accept it," Schmid, who comes from the Texas State Aquarium, tells Axios regarding the AZA decision. "But we're moving forward. I've got much bigger fish to fry."

  • "Our community and stakeholders trusted the former leadership and they let everyone down … I've got to build that trust back up. That starts with trust in me."

Meanwhile, the zoo is participating in the AZA's "pathway to accreditation" program and can reapply in fall 2022.

  • It is also applying to be a "sustainability partner" so it can still breed animals.

Between the lines: Since the zoo is currently working toward becoming accredited again it isn't in violation of Ohio law and its animals can stay, the Ohio Department of Agriculture tells Axios.

The bottom line: At least for now, a visit won't change much for zoo-goers.

Schmid's other goals for 2022:

  • Develop a strategic plan for the next three to five years.
  • Plan an overhaul of the North America region's exhibits, with proposals coming in the next few months.
  • Make the zoo more accessible to all central Ohioans.

What we're watching: The zoo is in talks with the Zoological Association of America (ZAA), a newer organization, as another accreditation option, Schmid tells Axios.

Yes, but: Some animal advocates say ZAA requirements aren't strict enough. Traditionally, the AZA is considered the "gold standard" for animal care.

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