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Columbus Zoo and Aquarium files appeal of accreditation loss

November 6, 2021 GMT

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium says it has filed its formal appeal of the loss of its most important accreditation and will retain the accreditation during the appeal process.

The zoo said Friday that the executive committee of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums must decide within 45 days to grant the zoo’s request to appeal the decision of its accreditation commission. If granted, the zoo’s appeal would be heard by the association’s board of directors at its January meeting.

The zoo said it would share the outcome of the process publicly but would withhold detailed information about the content of its appeal to maintain the integrity of the process and because some elements “are confidential to the Zoo’s internal operations about the safety and security of the animals, staff, and guests.”

The decision announced last month by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, considered the nation’s top zoo-accrediting body, was a major blow to an institution once widely admired in its industry and by the general public. If the appeal is denied, the zoo cannot apply for accreditation again before September.

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Zoo officials said earlier that the ruling would not affect operations or the experience of visitors, but the lack of accreditation would bar its participation in species survival and breeding programs, “which will impact species conservation programs.”

The accrediting group cited concerns about the zoo’s animal programs department and inappropriate businesses practices by its former leaders. Investigations and reviews by the Ohio attorney general’s office and the Ohio auditor are pending.

The accrediting body also voiced concerns about the zoo’s acquisition of ambassador animals. A recent documentary, “The Conservation Game,” raised questions about how celebrity conservationists, including the famous Jack Hanna, acquired exotic animals. The zoo has since cut ties with animal vendors who don’t meet certain standards of animal care.

The zoo said accreditation group staff members hailed changes already made following a recent visit but officials said they wanted to see that the changes can be sustained. The zoo suggested tabling the accreditation issue for a year.