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Abilene seeking zoo accreditation   

By Doug Myers – Your Abilene Online

A year after the Association of Zoos & Aquariums tabled the Abilene Zoo’s request for reaccreditation, city representatives are back in Virginia Beach, Va., hoping the zoo will receive approval from the AZA.

Four representatives of the Abilene Zoological Society — Pat Dunnahoo, Julie Napier, Sara Core and Jennifer Nichols — are joining Assistant City Manager David Vela, Director of Community Services Mike Hall and Interim Zoo Director Vonceil Harmon to show support for the city zoo’s accreditation efforts.

“We’re looking forward to it, and we have our hopes up,” Dunnahoo said Wednesday, noting the zoological society members will be at today’s meeting with the AZA mainly for support.

City spokeswoman Lenka Wright said Vela, Hall and Harmon were out of pocket Wednesday and unavailable for comment. She said she expects to have an update on the status of the zoo’s AZA accreditation by Friday.

The AZA first accredited the Abilene Zoo in 1985 and has done so every five years since then. Only about 10 percent of all zoos go through the AZA accreditation process.

While it remained unclear Wednesday what, if anything, still needed to be completed on the AZA’s to-do list for the Abilene Zoo, the city has been scurrying in recent weeks to address concerns raised in the AZA’s most recent inspection.

In January, an AZA team inspected the zoo for two days and issued a list of “continuing concerns and achievements.” The inspection was a follow-up to one last year that led to the AZA tabling the zoo’s request for reaccreditation.

As the city was working on dealing with AZA concerns, Zoo Director Bill Baker abruptly resigned Feb. 19, citing personal reasons.

One major concern remaining, the AZA has said, is that veterinary facilities deemed inadequate during last year’s original inspection have continued to be used. City officials have noted a construction project aimed at remedying the situation will address that concern.

While the AZA won’t comment on its inspection, AZA inspectors in the report expressed worry that the temporary facility still won’t have holding space or separate necropsy (post-mortem examination) facilities.

Ronald W. Erdrich/Reporter-News A family walks past the rhinoceros exhibit Wednesday at the Abilene Zoo.

AZA inspectors also were concerned that no drugs to sedate animals are being kept on-site “in the event of a serious animal escape or treatment.” Baker, before stepping aside, said the drugs were ordered.

Another major concern, AZA inspectors concluded, is a reorganization of management staff resulted in the workload of two curators increasing so much that it became impossible for them to complete their work in a reasonable amount of time.

City officials have said changes have been made to delegate some of the two curators’ duties to others.

Other lesser concerns the AZA inspection team raised included:

The need for improved communication with staff.

The zoo doesn’t have adequate quarantine space.

The female lion is too close to the new white tiger, causing animal stress.

The food freezer must be cleaned and the frozen food containers stored properly.

Perimeter fencing, in spots, isn’t adequate.

The veterinarian doesn’t routinely perform necropsies on animals that die.

Several exhibit pools using potable water drain directly into the adjoining city lake.

The doors in the jaguar holding area lack a locking system to ensure keeper safety. Similar concerns were also expressed about keeper safety in the lion holding area.

The inspection team praised the zoo for developing its docent and volunteer training program, its reptile staff’s promotion of a conservation program, and its initiation of several construction projects, including its Elm Creek and ocelot exhibits.

Ronald W. Erdrich/Reporter-News Turtles sun themselves Wednesday at the Abilene Zoo, March 3, 2010.

Additionally, the AZA team concluded, the Attwater prairie chicken project is a “significant conservation project enjoying better than anticipated success and the zoo is to be commended for its support.”

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