POWELL, Ohio (WCMH) — The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is losing its accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums – a nationally recognized “best practices” honor that the Columbus Zoo has held for more than 40 years, multiple sources told NBC4 Tuesday night.
The Zoo confirmed in a statement Wednesday morning that it will appeal the decision.
One source told Colleen Marshall the AZA accreditation will be stripped for at least a year unless the zoo can successfully file and argue an appeal to the AZA Commission.
The Commission evaluates and recognizes zoos in areas of operations and animal welfare. One source said losing the accreditation is a black eye for the zoo and can determine what animals are available to be transferred here. Sources said there is also concern what the loss will mean for funding and donor confidence.
The loss of accreditation follows a year of scandals that plagued the zoo and its leadership. Former CEO Tom Stalf and the former chief financial officer, Greg Bell, each resigned amid allegations that they misused zoo property for personal profit, allowing family members to live in zoo-owned houses, and awarded no-bid construction contracts.
In August, a documentary alleged longtime zoo director Jack Hanna had improper ties to the big cat trade across the country, using his celebrity to misrepresent the source for the animals used in his many television appearances.
Sources said the scandals played a direct role in the loss of the AZA accreditation, and there is concern about what all of it will mean for the zoo’s national reputation. The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has consistently ranked as one of the best zoos in the country.
News of the AZA decision comes on the same day Tom Schmid, the current director of the Texas State Aquarium, was announced as the new CEO for the Columbus Zoo.
Sources tell us the zoo will make a formal announcement about this on Wednesday.