State And Regional

Columbus Zoo loses accreditation from Association of Zoos and Aquariums; Appeal planned

COLUMBUS — An agency that provides accreditation for zoos across the country has denied giving accreditation to the Columbus Zoo, citing multiple issues including financial mismanagement.

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The Columbus Zoo was first accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in 1980, but now over 40 years later the organization announced a decision to strip the zoo of its accreditation.

“Issues of financial mismanagement have been reviewed by an independent forensic analysis and reported on in the media. Those issues alone are serious. More substantial and concerning is a long record of intentional and repeated animal transfers with non-AZA members intended to supply baby animals – mainly big cats – for entertainment purposes,” Dan Ashe, President and CEO of the AZA said in a statement Wednesday.

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The announcement comes four months after four former zoo officials misused resources, including former president and CEO Tom Stalf and CFO Greg Bell, letting family members live in houses controlled by the zoo, our news partners at WBNS-TV in Columbus report. The two also got their families tickets for entertainment events.

Both resigned from their positions in March.

Between the four officials, an internal investigation found the zoo lost more than $630,000, the station reported. An investigation by the State of Ohio remains underway.

According to WBNS, in addition to the scandal, a recent documentary makes allegations against the zoo’s former longtime director, Jack Hanna.

The “Conservation Game” claims Hanna and the zoo had ties to the big cat trade across the country. In July, the zoo cut ties with certain animal organizations that were mentioned in the film.

In response to the loss of accreditation, the zoo said it plans to file a formal appeal, which must be filed by Oct. 30.

“At the time of the AZA inspection by the visiting committee in July, we believe the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium met the AZA standards required for accreditation. The poor decisions of a handful of people should not negate the good work this team does and how much staff members contribute to the AZA through committee work and leadership roles,” Jerry Borin, interim CEO and president of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, said in a release.

Columbus Zoo officials told WBNS the loss of accreditation will not affect daily operation, however the decision will restrict zoo staff from continuing certain roles and the zoo from participating in some breeding programs.

In a statement posted to the Columbus Zoo’s social media page Friday, zoo officials thanked patron for their support, saying they “look forward to brighter days ahead.”

“We know we will get through this, and, thanks in large part to all of you, we will be stronger than ever,” the statement read.