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Greenville Zoo works to renew accreditation, looks to the future

The Greenville Zoo is located at 150 Cleveland Park Drive.
Megan Fitzgerald
Greenville Journal
The Greenville Zoo is located at 150 Cleveland Park Drive.

The Greenville Zoo is in the process of renewing its accreditation with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

The zoo has held its accreditation for more than 40 years. Every five years, the zoo must go through AZA’s accreditation-application process to retain its standing.

To be an accredited institution, the zoo’s operations must meet standards for animal welfare, veterinary care, conservation, education, guest services, physical facilities, safety, staffing, finance and governing body. Accreditation offers many benefits to the zoo including increasing funding and grants eligibility or promoting professional recognition, according to AZA.

A three-day zoo inspection was conducted in June by a visiting committee that provided a preliminary report on its findings. An update on this report was given to Greenville City Council during a work session on July 8.

According to the city, the report listed no major concerns and highlighted areas of achievement including quality guest experience, high gift shop and concessions revenues, and more.

Before the visit, the city hired consultants to complete two mock inspections of the zoo. This process helped identify areas in need of improvement before the official visit. One of the issues noted in the mock reports was the current lion exhibit.

Zoo administrator Bill Cooper said the exhibit wasn’t listed as an issue in the preliminary report because there were currently no lions in the exhibit. The zoo’s former African lions, Saied and Chuma, were both euthanized within the past year.

“I did have a conversation with them about that exhibit and the potential for bringing lions back and they would recommend we not do that,” Cooper said.

Councilmember Dorothy Dowe said it is worth waiting to fully evaluate what animal would be the best fit for that exhibit in the future.

“The primary concern is animal welfare,” Dowe said.

A formal hearing by the AZA commission will be the next step in the accreditation process. It is slated to take place in September.

Governance study

A governance study examining the organizational and operational structure of the zoo has also been completed. The city hired Relevant Strategies and Solutions to conduct this study and provide recommendations and strategies for the future of the zoo.

One of the recommendations was to shift the governance structure of the zoo to a public-private partnership with a nonprofit governing board. Tara Eaker, the city’s director of parks, recreation and tourism, said it would be a three- to five-year process to complete the shift.

It was also recommended that a strategic plan and facility concept plan be created for the zoo. Eaker said both are currently being developed in partnership with Relevant Strategies and Solutions. The final suggestion was for the Greenville Zoo Foundation to launch a comprehensive fundraising strategy.

City staff plan to provide council with a formal presentation on the status of these initiatives in the fall. The city anticipates having the strategic plan completed by September.

This story was filed as part of an editorial partnership between South Carolina Public Radio and the Greenville Journal, which is responsible for its content. You can learn more about the Greenville Journal here.

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