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BREC's Baton Rouge Zoo accredited again, six years after losing status from national group

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BATON ROUGE — The Baton Rouge Zoo has regained its national accreditation, six years after a number of outdated exhibits and other problems cost it its recognition.

BREC said Tuesday morning that after submitting an application for reaccreditation, an in-person inspection and a hearing, the zoo is again among the 10 percent of zoos and aquariums formally recognized by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. 

The park is amid a $50 million improvement plan expected to be revealed in May.

"It gives us a little bit more credibility and it makes it a little bit more easy to get permits to move animals, it allows us to gain access to additional animals," said Jim Fleshman, the zoo's director. "We're looking to add African lions...and eventually we want to be able to bring in gorillas and bring great apes back to the zoo."

Zoos seeking accreditation are evaluated on nearly 400 standards and a review team spends up to four days reviewing the park. The reviewers also look at whether the park has addressed any concerns raised in a previous visit.

In a statement, BREC Superintendent Corey Wilson said the park system was disappointed to have lost its standing previously.

“In 2018, we were devastated to announce that for the first time in its history, the Baton Rouge Zoo was denied accreditation. At the time, the AZA accrediting body recognized the good work being done by talented staff while determining that there must be a significant investment in the zoo’s infrastructure,” Wilson said in a statement.

Among many other improvements, the first phase of construction for the zoo includes a new entrance and entryway, orientation plaza, giraffe feeding station, pygmy hippo exhibit and new train route. Despite the drought, record heat and construction, in 2023 the Zoo served nearly 200,000 visitors from across the country.

"Ultimately, we're trying to get to Nov. 4 when we ask the public to renew our taxes, and hopefully part of that can include portions of the next phase of the zoo," Wilson said.

The zoo had held its accreditation for 40 years before losing it after a poor review in 2018. At the time, park officials had just rejected a proposal to move the zoo from Greenwood Park in north Baton Rouge to the Airline Highway Park along Bayou Manchac in south Baton Rouge.

Those opposing the move suggested the zoo improve the park where it was — a proposal that ultimately led to the work being done today.

The AZA team six years ago dinged Baton Rouge for dilapidated infrastructure, three animal escapes in a 16-month period and a lack of lighting near exhibits. The review team also noted that two giraffes and a tiger died unexpectedly in 2016. That same year, dogs had broken into the zoo and killed three monkeys. Six years earlier, dogs broke in and killed 17 flamingos.

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