COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium announced a new accreditation Wednesday after losing its previous one last year.

The Zoological Association of America brought a team of zoological experts in March to conduct a four-day inspection at the Columbus Zoo. The zoo underwent a voting and approval process with the ZAA’s board of directors. More than 60 wildlife facilities hold ZAA accreditation, and a spokesperson for the Columbus Zoo said it is among the largest now holding the title.

“Meeting or exceeding all accreditation standards only benefits the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium at every level,” said Tom Schmid, President and CEO of the Columbus Zoo Family of Parks.

A guest at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium looks at a sloth bear in its exhibit. (Courtesy Photo/Columbus Zoo and Aquarium)

ZAA Executive Director John Seyjagat noted the zoo’s conservation endeavors like water reclamation and recycling, and wildlife conservation and rehabilitation.

“The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium was extremely patient, compliant, and diligent throughout the ZAA accreditation process,” Seyjagat said. “The entire staff and support team are well-qualified and professional.”

Accreditation with ZAA needs renewal every five years, meaning zoological experts will come back to inspect on-site before approving the Columbus Zoo again. The team grades wildlife facilities on categories including the physical space, animal care and well-being, record-keeping, personnel knowledge, safety plans and more.

The ZAA accreditation comes within one year of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium losing its previous accreditation with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums – a nationally recognized “best practices” honor that the zoo held for more than 40 years. The zoo tried to appeal the decision, but it was denied by the AZA.

The loss of accreditation followed 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 2021, a documentary alleged former zoo director Jack Hanna had improper ties to the big cat trade across the country, saying the Columbus Zoo would pay vendors for cubs and other baby animals to use in public appearances, then return those animals when they matured. When officials for the zoo said they would implement some strict changes in response, the documentary’s maker praised them.

“I’m really encouraged by what they do,” said Michael Webber in September. “I think that they are leading in a very responsible way, and I’m actually very willing to follow them where they lead.”