COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has lost its accreditation with its industry’s top accrediting body amid concerns surrounding its animal programs department and inappropriate businesses practices by the zoo’s former leaders.
The zoo plans to appeal the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ decision, it announced Wednesday morning.
The AZA is the top accrediting body for zoos in aquariums in the United States and a dozen other countries. Their accreditation process helps ensure AZA facilities are meeting industry standards that emphasize animal welfare and care, veterinary programs, conservation, education and safety, the AZA’s website said. Accredited organizations must go through the accreditation process every five years.
The AZA’s team expressed concern about the “inappropriate financial management issues by former leadership” at the Columbus zoo.
Former president and CEO Tom Stalf and former chief financial officer Greg Bell resigned in March after an investigation by The Dispatch detailed their personal use of zoo resources. Forensic audits initiated by the zoo’s board have since revealed improper spending and questionable business practices by the former top two executives resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in zoo losses. Investigations and reviews by the Ohio Attorney General and Ohio Auditor of State are pending.
The AZA has also voiced concerns about the zoo’s acquisition of ambassador animals in the its animal programs department. The recent documentary “The Conservation Game” raised questions about the way celebrity conservations, including longtime Columbus Zoo director Jack Hanna, acquire exotic animals. The zoo has since cut ties with animal vendors who do not meet certain standards of animal care.
The AZA team that visited the zoo on its recent accreditation review commended the changes made by the zoo since Stalf and Bell’s departure and in response to the concerns over its animal programs department. But the accreditation commission “wants to see that these changes can be sustained,” the zoo said.
The news comes one day after the zoo named Tom Schmid, president and CEO of the Texas State Aquarium, as its next leader.
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