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THE CONS OF ‘CONSERVATION’: Renowned Columbus Zoo and Aquarium loses accreditation over animal exploitation activities

The AZA organization noted that the Columbus zoo\'s repeated animal transfers with non-AZA members to supply baby animals for entertainment purposes are substantial and concerning.

JENNIFER SMOLA SHAFFER: The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has lost its accreditation with its industry’s top accrediting body amid concerns regarding its acquisition of animals and inappropriate business practices by the zoo’s former leaders. Zoo officials announced Wednesday morning that they plan to appeal the decision by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the top accrediting body for zoos and aquariums in the United States and a dozen other countries.

The AZA’s accreditation process helps ensure its member facilities are meeting industry standards that emphasize animal welfare and care, veterinary programs, conservation, education and safety, the AZA’s website said. Accredited organizations must go through the accreditation process every five years. The AZA accreditation commission voted Friday to deny the Columbus Zoo’s accreditation following its recent routine five-year review… The AZA first accredited the Columbus Zoo in 1980…

The AZA expressed concern about “inappropriate financial management issues by former leadership” at the Columbus Zoo, but said the zoo’s repeated animal transfers with non-AZA members to supply baby animals for entertainment purposes are “more substantial and concerning.”

The recent documentary film, “The Conservation Game,” raised questions about the way celebrity conservationists, including longtime Columbus Zoo director Jack Hanna, acquire exotic animals. The film alleges baby tigers and snow leopards that appeared with Hanna on late-night talk shows often didn’t come from or return to accredited zoos, but were instead shuffled among backyard breeders and unaccredited zoos that don’t have to adhere to the same strict animal care standards and ethics rules as accredited facilities…

AZA President and CEO Dan Ashe said in a written statement Wednesday. “But AZA membership is conditioned on adherence to our accreditation standards – the global “gold standard” for modern aquariums and zoos – and our independent Accreditation Commission has determined that Columbus has failed to uphold those standards.

“…Given the number and gravity of concerns that the inspection team identified, the Commission concluded that although Columbus is working hard to correct the issues, the zoo should not be accredited at this time,” Ashe said… The AZA’s Ashe called the zoo’s decision to hire Schmid “welcome and encouraging,” but reiterated its accreditation commission felt “additional time will be required to let these and other changes take hold.”

Michael Webber, who directed “The Conservation Game,” said the changes the Columbus Zoo has made this year in response to issues raised in the film are “pretty dramatic.” “…I’m hopeful that as a result of this film, our investigation, (and) the AZA’s actions, that we’ll come to a more ethical place in animal welfare, and that ultimately the animals that we love will be the beneficiaries of these actions,” Webber said…

The zoo’s interim Columbus Zoo President and CEO Jerry Borin said the organization believes it met the AZA standards for accreditation. But tabling the Columbus Zoo’s accreditation would be a fair outcome, and one they hope the AZA will land on following the appeal process… The zoo’s appeal must be filed by Oct. 30. The AZA must decide within 45 days of receiving the zoo’s appeal whether it will grant it…

AZA accreditation might be akin to a Good Housekeeping seal of approval… The process is a thorough one, inspecting animal care, welfare, and safety, an institution’s finances and more… AZA accreditation remains “the gold standard for zoological institutions in the United States,” said Carney Anne Nasser, who was featured in “The Conservation Game” and is a research fellow with Harvard University’s Animal Law & Policy Program. “Without that, a facility loses a certain amount of credibility, possibly even public trust”. SOURCE…

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