L.A. Zoo Anticipates Swift Renewal of Accreditation
A team of experts is inspecting the Los Angeles Zoo this week in an appearance that local officials hope will lead to reaccreditation without the criticism and delays that marked the last such visit in 1995.
Last time the American Zoo and Aquarium Assn. postponed by one year the granting of a five-year accreditation renewal, citing deficiencies in animal care. That term of accreditation expired in September.
Zoo Director Manuel A. Mollinedo said he expects the result to be more favorable when he appears at a March evaluation session by the group in Wichita, Kan.
The inspection team held an information session Thursday for the zoo staff, but declined to comment on its findings so far during its three-day visit.
The zoo, which is subsidized by the city and also raises money privately to support its operations, draws about 1.5 million visitors a year. Admission to the zoo, in Griffith Park, is $8.25 for adults and $3.25 for children ages 2 to 12.
Louisville Zoo Director William Foster, leader of the inspection team, said that only 201 of 2,300 facilities in the United States that display or raise wild animals are accredited and that an ultimate goal of the American Zoo and Aquarium Assn. is “to see nonaccredited facilities go out of business.”
The inspection team also includes San Antonio Zoo Director Steve McCusker and Terrie Correll, curator of the Living Desert in Palm Desert.
The inspectors said they will delve into every aspect of the Los Angeles Zoo’s performance while here and, after questioning Mollinedo at the Wichita meeting, will file a written report. An accreditation decision will be made at that meeting.
Among the matters to be considered are the condition of the zoo’s animal collection, veterinary care, physical facilities, safety, security, finance, staff, governing authority, support organization, involvement in education, conservation and research, and adherence to association policies.
In 1995, accreditation was delayed for a year after inspectors complained of bureaucratic problems and conditions so bad at the zoo that the animals’ health was in jeopardy.
The findings echoed criticism in the 1980s by federal inspectors, who found inadequate food storage, poor sanitation, drainage problems, vermin infestations and substandard housing for animals.
Mollinedo took charge of the zoo after the previous director resigned under fire in 1995.
On Thursday, he said he does not expect a “perfect” report this time, but he is confident that the zoo will be found to have made considerable improvements since the last accreditation.
The zoo has constructed a new animal health center since 1995, a matter of criticism in the delayed accreditation, and has undertaken chimpanzee and red ape master plan projects.
It has also upgraded numerous exhibits, improved the infrastructure and installed perimeter fencing, among other improvements.
The zoo’s 230 full-time city employees recently received a salary increase, although a workers representative, captive wildlife specialist David Reames, said Thursday that some management-labor relations problems remain.
The zoo received much publicity last year when a Komodo dragon severely bit a toe of Phil Bronstein, editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, when zookeepers allowed Bronstein, the husband of actress Sharon Stone, into the huge lizard’s enclosure.
Mollinedo reiterated Thursday that the Bronstein visit had been mishandled and that letting the journalist into the enclosure was a mistake that would not be repeated.
Foster said accreditation is either “tabled” for a year, as occurred with the Los Angeles Zoo in 1995, or denied in about 5% to 10% of cases.
Among facilities that have been denied accreditation is the Santa Ana Zoo, which lost its accreditation in September 2000 over infrastructure problems.
The zoo has completed a $1.5-million renovation and may be reaccredited after a national inspection team visits next week, Santa Ana Zoo officials said Thursday.
Times staff writer David Haldane contributed to this report.