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Columbus Zoo regains full accreditation from AZA

The accreditation was removed in 2021 over an investigation into misuse of funds at the zoo and reports of intentional animal transfers for entertainment purposes.

POWELL, Ohio — The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has regained its accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) after losing it in late 2021.

The zoo announced Monday morning it was granted full accreditation.

“I’m proud of our team, staff and board of directors. 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,” said President and CEO Tom Schmid.

The AZA removed the zoo’s accreditation in October 2021 citing an investigation into misuse of funds at the zoo, as well as reports of intentional animal transfers for entertainment purposes. 

Specifically, the AZA pointed to an internal investigation which concluded the zoo lost more than $630,000 at the hands of former zoo officials, including then-President and CEO Tom Stalf and CFO Greg Bell.  

The AZA also cited the release of a documentary – "The Conservation Game” – which alleged the zoo had ties to the big cat trade. The zoo cut ties with certain animal organizations mentioned in the film shortly after that documentary was released.  

To regain the accreditation, the zoo says it underwent a thorough review to “assure it is meeting or exceeding the rising standards in every aspect of its operations, including animal care and wellbeing, veterinary medicine, governance, wildlife conservation, and research, education, finance, and safety.”

The AZA requires facilities to complete the process every five years.

“We have a new governance model, which joins our elected and appointed members into one cohesive and engaged board. During the Zoo’s AZA inspection in December, the inspection team noted no major concerns and no concerns remaining from the previous inspection. The inspectors recognized 12 points of particular achievement, including the Zoo’s animal acquisition and disposition policy. That policy was identified as a concern during our previous inspection in 2021. The outcome of our recent inspection really demonstrates how far we have come,” said Schmid.

In addition to the AZA, the zoo is also accredited by the Zoological Association of America (ZAA), and by the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks & Aquariums (AMMPA), an international association and accrediting body specializing in marine mammals. 

“We welcome the rigor of all accreditation inspections and continue to identify new opportunities to benchmark our programming. Our objective is always to exceed standards, and to demonstrate our commitment to animal wellbeing, education, wildlife conservation, our staff, and our guests,” said Schmid.

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