Utica Zoo back in good standing

Published Sep 25, 2018 at 4:00pm

The Utica Zoo has regained accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, restoring its good standing with other zoos and allowing access to certain funding sources and grants, the zoo announced.

Word came Monday at the AZA annual conference in Seattle. The zoo had lost accreditation in 2004, which it blamed on, in part, deferred maintenance and a lack of fundraising necessary to properly operate. It received $300,000 in help from Oneida County to be spread over two years, and credited a “virtual army” of supporters with nearly last-minute help this summer to fix some outstanding issues.

“The Utica Zoo staff currently operates under the standards provided by AZA and expects the excellence described in these standards,” zoo Executive Director Andria Heath said in a statement. “This actual accreditation is considered to be a seal of best practices in this industry and the Utica Zoo is honored to once again be included in the information and resource sharing with the fellow 232 institutions.” 

In addition to funding and industry recognition and pride, accreditation allows expanded participation in animal exchange and breeding programs, and the ability to collaborate with world-renowned animal care specialists, the zoo said in its announcement.

The Utica Zoo participates in the AZA Species Survival Plan for endangered and critically endangered species. Also, membership at any AZA-accredited zoo offers free or discounted admission to the network of the 232 other accredited zoos and aquariums.

The zoo thanked the community for support as it sought re-accreditation, in particular the Oneida County Legislature and County Executive Anthony Picente. The Legislature voted in May to give the zoo $150,000 over two years. It is from unanticipated revenue in the county’s fund balance.

Zoo board of directors chair Robert Jubenville also thanked the city of Utica and state lawmakers.

The re-accreditation came after putting new leadership in place and then in July, a three-day inspection. The inspection committee noted 12 findings to be addressed before accreditation could be granted. “A virtual army” of contractors, volunteers, donors, board members and staff converged to make the needed renovations to restore modern zoological practices, putting in thousands of hours of work, the zoo said in its announcement. 

“Having worked at AZA accredited zoos for over 30 years, I know the struggle to establish and maintain the high standards of animal care and public service necessary to achieve this recognition,” Director of Animal Operations Pearl Yusuf. “I am extremely proud to be a part of the team of dedicated and determined zoo professionals who made this happen. Utica has a gem of a zoo right in the heart of the city and now we are recognized for that on a national level.”