POWELL, Ohio (WSYX) — The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium announced Monday that it has been granted full accreditation from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums.
In order to earn AZA accreditation, the zoo had undergone a full review to assure it meets or exceeds the rising standards of operations including care and wellbeing of animals, wildlife conservation, as well as research, finance, education, and safety. The AZA requires zoos to undergo this review process every five years.
“I’m proud of our team, both our staff and our board of directors," Columbus Zoo president and CEO Tom Schmid said. "We have accomplished so much over the last 18 months. From restructuring our animal care program to the development of over 30 new financial policies and procedures, we are a much stronger institution today."
Schmid also said the timing of this announcement is ideal as the Columbus Zoo is set to host the AZA's Annual Conference this September.
In 2021, the Columbus Zoo was denied AZA accreditation after multiple violations were found by the association
One reason for losing the accreditation was financial abuses by former leaders, including former CEO Tom Stalf, who were found to have misused more than $600,000 in zoo resources.
Another was allegations of obtaining animals from unscrupulous animal dealers. Those animals were used in outreach programs, including ones by beloved conservationist Jack Hanna, though Schmid doesn’t think Hanna was involved.
“I'm not sure Jack knew, I suspect he probably didn't,” Schmid said. “I think he made the same mistake that the board made, is that he trusted leadership.”
The zoo filed an appeal, and while the association did praise the new leadership making rigorous changes, the appeal was also denied.
The restoration of the recognition by the AZA comes as the zoo considers its next financial steps. The zoo is partly funded by a levy passed by Franklin County voters. That levy expires in 2026. Schmid said the zoo’s board will consider what’s next some time in 2024. That accreditation might help convince voters to approve a new levy.
“I want to make sure that every citizen in Columbus is proud of what we do,” he said.
The Wilds was previously granted full AZA accreditation as well in September of 2022.
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is also accredited by the Zoological Association of America, and by the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks & Aquariums