The Baton Rouge Zoo Just Lost Its Accreditation, And That Raises The Obvious Question…

…which is whether the people who run the zoo didn’t deliberately degrade it in order to try to move it to South Baton Rouge.

If this isn’t what happened, they’re going to have a tough time messaging their side of the story. Especially when today’s announcement indicates this may have been known last week when the issue of whether to move the zoo was decided.

Either way, Baton Rouge now has an unaccredited zoo.

BREC’s Baton Rouge Zoo is disappointed to announce that the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) has opted to not renew its accreditation after this weekend’s review by the AZA’s Accreditation Commission, a decision rendered by an independent panel of AZA representatives. Less than 10% of animal exhibitors registered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture have achieved AZA accreditation, a distinction that BREC’s Baton Rouge Zoo has held for 40 years consecutively that is driven by a rigorous evaluation process required of AZA members every five years. At last count, there are 232 AZA Accredited institutions out of approximately 2,800 licensed animal exhibitors nationwide.

“Unfortunately, our nearly 48-year old Zoo did not meet the rigorous standards set forth by the AZA – a disappointing but unsurprising decision given the significant maintenance and capital needs we know exist at our Zoo,” said Phil Frost, Baton Rouge Zoo Director. “We will closely follow the concerns highlighted by the AZA Accreditation Commission as a guide for addressing all outstanding issues that led to this decision, as we work diligently to ensure that we regain our accreditation over the course of the next few years to the extent current funding and other currently dedicated resources will allow. An immediate funding campaign will be needed in order to achieve this.”

That 2,800 number is a bogus one, by the way, because truck stop tourist traps with tigers or alligators in cages might well be licensed animal exhibitors, but they’re not full-fledged zoos – the vast majority of which are accredited.

The Baton Rouge Zoo used to be one of those and no longer is.

And of course now there’s a “critical lack of funding” for the zoo which must be addressed by higher taxes.

It’s fair to say that part of the reason for the zoo’s funding problems is it didn’t generate enough visitors – which is a chicken-and-egg problem; the zoo doesn’t generate enough visitors and the consumer dollars they bring because it’s a lousy zoo, and it’s a lousy zoo largely because it doesn’t have the money to be anything else.

And maybe that’s one reason why the people running the zoo figured they might be able to change that equation by starting over in a friendlier location. Obviously that wasn’t politically tenable since the people in North Baton Rouge, Zachary, Central and Baker threw a fit and before it was over the board voting on the matter was unanimously opposed to moving the zoo.

Which means there are now three options available – regardless of whether the circumstances were engineered to produce those options, which we agree is a central question here.

First, to consider once again moving the zoo in light of the news that the accreditation just got pulled. In the press release from the Zoo cited in that WAFB-TV report, there was this…

In the decision rendered by this Commission regarding the Baton Rouge Zoo’s accredited status, examiners expressed broad concerns regarding dated exhibits that are not reflective of modern zoological practices, along with an aging infrastructure which makes repair and maintenance exponentially difficult. Additionally, examiners closely monitored the discussions regarding potential zoo relocation and investments in a more sustainable, modern location.

Seems like a rather clear indication, at least in this telling of the story, that the accreditation was up in the air based on whether the BREC Commission gave the go-ahead to move, and when that went belly up there was no way to avoid the loss of accreditation. Maybe that’s a reason to ask the Commission to revisit their decision, which seems unlikely.

The second option is to keep the zoo where it is and try to make it a success. That’s going to mean a fresh attempt at a tax increase, which ought to generate lots of questions about where the staggering amount of money BREC receives is spent. That won’t be a fun inquisition for the parks-and-recreation folks in town.

And of course, the third option is to lose the zoo altogether, which at this point is looking better and better. If you’re going to run one of the worst full-fledged zoos in the country only an hour away from one of the better zoos, then what you’re doing is wasting taxpayer dollars and you should stop. Fire everybody, move the animals to better homes elsewhere, get the LSU veterinary students internships at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans and give the taxpayer a break on what he has to pay BREC.

That might be the most obvious solution of the bunch, but it’s the one least likely to happen. A zoo which loses its accreditation is a zoo the market is trying to kill. But the market doesn’t drive public sector decisions in Baton Rouge; politics does. And for some reason the zoo is now a political asset no matter how lousy it is.

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