Seven months after losing its accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Erie Zoo is moving ahead with the process of winning it back.
In November, the Erie Zoo lost its 37-year accreditation from AZA, a nonprofit dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, animal welfare, education, science and recreation.
The commission’s primary reasons for taking away the zoo’s accreditation had to do with the zoo’s insufficient funding resources and its lack of modern exhibits, which did not meet the standards of many current zoos.
Related:Erie Zoo reopened March 1 with new exhibits as they work toward renewing AZA accreditation
“We’re doing a whole new restructuring, starting with getting the staffing,” Emily Smicker, spokeswoman for the Erie Zoo, told the Erie Times-News in a previous report. “That staff will help us raise money for the resources we need, so then we can fulfill those plans about updating the signage and different exhibits.”
One of the tangible steps to gaining accreditation could be found in the May reopening of the Main Zoo Building, which was part of the zoo’s $10 million Wild Open Spaces capital campaign.
The completion of that project is one of the many steps the Erie Zoo has taken to fulfill AZA’s recommendations of earning back accreditation, said Jeff Beach, chairman of the zoo’s board of directors.
“We really have been doing a good job of addressing the physical plant issues that they (AZA) brought up,” he said.
The next project the zoo is tackling is finishing its new primate exhibit, which will hold colobus monkeys. Beach said the exhibit is expected to be completed by the end of June.
Other projects, including the renovation of the American otter exhibit, will move at a slower pace, Beach said.
“The way inflation has hit construction prices and the labor shortage, it’s affected how contractors bid, so we’re going to hold off a little bit,” he said. “Our goal would be to get it (the otter exhibit) done next year.”
Working with AZA
Not all the steps are as visible as a renovated exhibit as the zoo works with AZA through the organization’s Pathway Toward Membership Program.
Every week, chief operations officer Roo Kojancie talks with an AZA mentor about the steps the Erie Zoo needs to take for a chance at reclaiming the accreditation.
“Roo has been doing a good job on the operating side, she’s really leading the effort for the accreditation process,” Beach said. “(The AZA mentor) feels we’re on track, but we still have some things to do. We’re hiring more people, we did just get a new veterinarian… so we’re on the path.”
The AZA mentor has been to the zoo once and is expected to visit again at the end of June, Beach said.
New CEO ahead, focus on revenue
In the meantime, the zoo board works to find a replacement for Scott Mitchell, who served as the CEO of the Erie Zoo from 2007 until the opening of this season. Mitchell now is the zoo’s director of development.
“Scott’s been doing a great job in development,” Beach said. “You see how much is needed for him to concentrate in that area and it’s so important for us now to raise revenue to continue this process.”
Related:Scott Mitchell is no longer CEO of Erie Zoo, moving to new development role
Beach said the zoo board plans to name a new CEO within the next few months.
The board also continues to search for the money that will help reclaim AZA accreditation, Beach said.
“One of the things we found out in our economic impact study was our zo, compared to all the other zoos, gets less than 10% of government funding,” Beach said. “It’s really hampered us, so we’re working hard as a board to solve that. That’s going to be a key thing, developing new revenue sources.”