Two years after scandal, the Columbus Zoo is accredited again
The Columbus Zoo regained its accreditation with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) yesterday — nearly 18 months after losing it due to scandals involving its top officials.
Why it matters: Above all, reputation. AZA accreditation is the zoological gold standard and Columbus had earned it for 41 straight years before October 2021.
- This resolves a rough, embarrassing chapter of the zoo's otherwise well-respected history and helps ensure new president and CEO Tom Schmid can focus on moving forward with his goals, including renovations and a strategic plan.
What's more: Zoo members now once again enjoy free or discounted admission to other AZA member zoos, including Toledo, Cincinnati and Cleveland.
- Additionally, Columbus can again breed animals through AZA Species Survival Plans without any red tape.
Catch up quick: The loss of accreditation was two-pronged.
- First, a Dispatch investigation that Alissa worked on in 2021 uncovered that former officials had been using zoo assets personally for years, resulting in losses of at least $631,000 that have been mostly recovered via settlements.
- Later that year a documentary, "The Conservation Game," exposed longtime zoo director Jack Hanna's involvement in the exotic big cat trade, a clear violation of AZA standards. He has since retired.
Details: The zoo has made many changes to its animal care program and financial policies, Schmid said in a statement. A December AZA inspection found no issues.
- The accreditation is valid for five years.
What he's saying: "I'm proud of our team, both our staff and our board of directors. We have accomplished so much over the last 18 months," Schmid said.
💭 Alissa's thought bubble: Though this rebound was to be expected — Columbus is a flagship AZA institution, after all — it's certainly a big relief for zoo fans.
What we're watching: An ongoing investigation into the financial scandal by the Ohio Attorney General's Charitable Law Section, which regulates the state's nonprofits. The office hasn't answered our question on when that'll wrap up.
- Meanwhile, the zoo also recently announced a $50 million capital improvements plan. Over $32 million is earmarked for a significant renovation of the North America area, starting this fall.
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