AZA, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, has announced that its independent Accreditation Commission voted to deny accreditation to Safari West and to Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, during a virtual hearing on 1 October 2021.
The inspections and hearings would have taken place in 2020, but due to the pandemic, AZA-accredited facilities were granted a one-year stay.
Following the hearing, Dan Ashe, AZA President and CEO, issued the following statement regarding Safari West:
“It is always disappointing when AZA loses a member, especially a long-time member like Safari West. 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 Safari West has failed to uphold those standards.
“The Commission noted serious concerns with veterinary practices and care, and acquisition and disposition of animals. I am hopeful that the owners and leadership at Safari West are taking these matters seriously. Some positive changes were noted, and noteworthy, but the Commission felt that additional time and effort will be required to fully meet AZA accreditation standards.
“To Safari West employees, we acknowledge your disappointment. Your professionalism and commitment will be crucial to regaining accreditation and we do hope to see Safari West and you back within our community.”
The attraction was first certified as an AZA Related Facility in 1988 and maintained this until being granted accreditation in 2010, and again in 2015.
Safari West was first granted certification as an AZA Related Facility in 1988 and maintained that membership until they applied for and were granted accreditation in 2010.
Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
Columbus Zoo and Aquarium was first accredited by AZA in 1980. Speaking about the decision, Ashe said:
“It is never a good day when AZA loses a member, especially one as renowned and respected as the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. 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.
“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.
“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.
“I am confident the leadership and Board of Directors at Columbus are taking these matters seriously, and in fact, they have already instituted significant changes. Yesterday’s news about the selection of Tom Schmid as their new President and CEO is welcome and encouraging. However, the Commission felt that additional time will be required to let these and other changes take hold.
“To the employees of Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, we acknowledge your good work. Much of the accreditation inspection report was exceedingly positive and reflective of your professionalism. We hope to see Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and you back within our community soon.”
Upholding AZA standards
“Although we are sad at losing a member, we believe this exemplifies what distinguishes AZA accreditation, helping earn its reputation as the global ‘gold standard’ for modern zoos and aquariums,” added Ashe. “In the past five years, ten facilities have failed AZA’s accreditation process. Large and small, zoo and aquarium, internationally famous and locally loved, all AZA members are accountable to our standards. If they do not uphold them, they will not be accredited.”
Both attractions now have 30 days to appeal this decision to the AZA Executive Committee, which then must decide within 45 days whether to grant the appeal. If an appeal is granted, it will be heard by the AZA Board of Directors at its next meeting. If the denial is upheld, they will be eligible to apply for AZA accreditation again in September 2022.
Zoos wishing to be accredited must submit a detailed application, and undergo a meticulous on-site inspection over the course of several days. This is undertaken by an independent team of zoo professionals, who explore all areas of the facility’s operations. Detailed reports from the inspection team and the facility are then evaluated by the Accreditation Commission, with top officials being interviewed in person at a formal hearing, after which accreditation is granted, tabled, or denied.
Each facility undergoes a thorough review every five years, to make sure it has and will continue to meet standards. There are currently 241 AZA-accredited facilities and 15 AZA-certified related facility members throughout the US and 12 other countries.
Last month AZA, alongside the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, announced the launch of Endangered Species COVID-19 Relief, funded by the American Rescue Plan.