The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio lost its most important accreditation over concerns about the zoo’s leadership and animal programs, dealing a heavy blow to a once widely admired institution.
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums announced the decision to revoke the zoo’s accreditation on Wednesday, citing concerns about the zoo’s animal programs department and inappropriate business practices by its former executives.
An investigation by The Columbus Dispatch found that former zoo president and CEO Tom Stalf and former CFO Greg Bell were allowing relatives to live in homes owned or controlled by the zoo, and would attempt to obtain credit. tickets for family members to zoo entertainment events. Stalf and Bell both resigned in March following the investigation.
Other concerns were raised by the accreditation group regarding the zoo’s acquisition of certain exotic animals.
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The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium said it planned to appeal the decision of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, considered to be the nation’s primary accreditation body for zoos, a day after the institution announced its new leader.
Subsequent audits initiated by the zoo’s board found that inappropriate spending and questionable business practices on the part of the couple resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses for the zoo, the newspaper reported.
Investigations and reviews by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the Ohio Auditor are ongoing.
In addition to financial issues, the accreditation group has raised concerns about the zoo’s acquisition of animal ambassadors in its animal programs department. A recent documentary, “The Conservation Game,” raised questions about how famous environmentalists, including famed Jack Hanna, acquire exotic animals, and the zoo has since severed ties with animal sellers who don’t respond. not up to certain animal care standards.
Accreditation group staff who recently visited the zoo praised him for the changes that have been made to the leadership and department of animal programs. However, the group said they wanted these changes to be sustained.
Tom Schmid, president and CEO of the Texas State Aquarium, was named the next Columbus Zoo executive on Tuesday.
Hanna was director of the zoo from 1978 to 1992, then director emeritus for many years. He was well known for his live animal demonstrations on late night talk shows, as well as his own syndicated TV shows. His entertainment work has raised the profile of the Ohio Zoo, resulting in a massive increase in attendance over the years.
Hanna’s family announced in April that he had been diagnosed with dementia and would be retiring from public life.