August 18, 2022

Situation surrounding Columbus Zoo’s loss of accreditation

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium lost its Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accreditation in early October. 

The AZA is recognized as the industry’s top accrediting body for zoos within the United States and a dozen other countries. Their accreditation process is meant to ensure that zoo facilities are meeting industry standards for animal welfare and care, education, veterinary programs, safety and conservation. Accredited organizations must renew their accreditation every five years. 

While the AZA had expressed concern over “inappropriate financial management issues by former leadership” at the Columbus Zoo, the organization also said the Columbus Zoo’s repeated animal transfers with non-AZA members to supply baby animals for entertainment purposes were even “more substantial and concerning.”

The 2021 documentary film, “The Conservation Game,” alleged that Jack Hanna and the Columbus Zoo worked with backyard breeders and roadside zoos, violating AZA standards for years.

Jack Hanna’s family shared that the former Columbus Zoo director had been diagnosed with dementia back in April. 

Jack Hanna poses with Columbus Zoo and Aquarium staff and cheetah for public event. Photo courtesy of Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

The zoo announced in July that it had ended their relationships with animal vendors who do not meet certain standards of animal care. 

The mismanagement of financial resources was confirmed in March after audits initiated by the zoo’s board revealed “improper spending and questionable business practices by the former top two executives,” leading to more than $630,000 in losses. 

Former President and CEO Tom Stalf and CFO Greg Bell voluntarily resigned after the audit was completed. Current investigations by the Ohio Attorney 

General and Ohio Auditor of State are still in motion.

“The AZA first accredited the Columbus Zoo in 1980, and as a long-standing AZA organization, we are disappointed that the [AZA accreditation] commission denied our accreditation after all of the positive changes that were made to meet AZA standards,” said interim Columbus Zoo President and CEO Jerry Borin in a written statement. “These changes were in place prior to the accreditation inspection and have been sustained since.”

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium filed an appeal to the AZA for their decision to deny the zoo’s accreditation on Nov. 5. The Columbus Zoo had held their accreditation for 40 years prior to the denial. 

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium recently welcomed a baby langur, born on Nov. 5. Photo courtesy of Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

The AZA executive committee has 45 days to make a decision on whether to approve the zoo’s request to appeal the commission’s ruling. If it is granted, the appeal will be heard by the AZA board of directors in January.

According to the zoo’s press release, if the appeal is unsuccessful, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium can apply for accreditation as early as September 2022. 

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium’s loss of accreditation does not result in any changes for potential visitors. The zoo will remain open and no layoffs are planned to occur.

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