Chehaw loses Association of Zoos and Aquariums accreditation

Kids climb on the meerkat display while adults take a break in the shade at the Chehaw zoo in June. The zoo has lost its Association of Zoos and Aquariums for this cycle, which is not expected to impact its overall operations from the public’s point of view. (File Photo)

ALBANY — The staff of Chehaw announced on Thursday that its zoo will lose its accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, or AZA, for this cycle.

Chehaw officials said the AZA’s inspection in June gave the zoo high marks for animal care and welfare. However, they said, the zoo’s long-standing financial instability, declining support from the city of Albany and a growing backlog of deferred maintenance were cited as reasons for denying the zoo’s accreditation renewal.

The zoo has the option to reapply in a year. In the meantime, officials said, there will be changes to the park’s administrative operation, but the public will not notice a difference in zoo operations.

“The high level of animal care and professionalism of the staff was not in question,” Chehaw Executive Director Don Meeks said. “The animals will continue to receive the same level of high quality care as we move forward.”

Chehaw has been a professionally accredited zoo since the early 2000s and has undergone inspections every five years for renewal. Officials with the attraction said the executive director and deputy director met with the commission in Seattle over the weekend where the committee decided that the zoo has fallen below its standards.

The zoo does not need AZA accreditation to operate. The AZA says that less than 10 percent of the nearly 2,800 zoos in the United States are accredited. Accreditation does bring benefits, such as participation in AZA programs that include animal exchanges and breeding programs for threatened species.

Zoo members also get discounts to other AZA accredited zoos and animal parks. Accreditation has been a source of pride for the community and an internationally recognized sign that the zoo has high standards for animal welfare, Chehaw officials said.

Meeks said he does not expect that the loss of accreditation will affect day-to-day operations or immediate changes to current animal exhibits, which include some exotic species brought to the zoo in part due to the AZA.

“The AZA’s inspection in June gave the Zoo high marks for animal care and welfare and our mission remains unchanged,” he said. “We continue to be driven by our mission of inspiring people to connect with nature and encouraging conservation action through positive recreational and educational experiences.”

Over the next several weeks, staff will be evaluating its options and working on putting plans in place to continue to serve the community. Officials said staff will continue to provide information as it becomes available.

Chehaw is a non-profit organization located at 105 Chehaw Park Road and is open every day of the year. For more information, call (229) 430-3966.

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