It appears that Micke Grove Zoo will continue to lack the national accreditation it needs to acquire more grants to bring more animals and attract more visitors.
While facing the need to trim the San Joaquin County budget by $56.2 million, the Board of Supervisors will determine during the week of June 21 whether to discontinue the county's Zoo Education Program.
County Administrator Manuel Lopez said discontinuing the Zoo Education Program would eliminate the chance to restore its accreditation with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, based in Maryland.
"Education is one of most important things a zoo does," zoo association spokesman Steve Feldman said.
While continuing the program is important, zoo director Ken Nieland said the 53-year-old zoo in south Lodi stands to suffer in an even more significant way — the proposed county budget eliminates one full-time and two part-time animal care specialists, which drops the level of animal care by 26 percent.
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums evaluates zoos for animal management and care, including living environment, social groupings, health, nutrition and veterinary care, according to the association's website.
Nieland said that the county-owned zoo lost its accreditation four years ago because there wasn't enough evidence that the county was making sufficient upgrades.
For example, the association expected upgrades to Monkey Island, which opened in 1990, and the mountain lion exhibit, which debuted in 1994.
Micke Grove Zoo received a five-year accreditation in 1990, 1995, and 2000. But five years later, the association didn't renew it.
Feldman acknowledged that the recession will take its toll on zoo operations, but no zoo has lost its accreditation because of finances.
In fact, the association has seen zoo attendance go up during the recession because families can't afford vacations, Feldman said. Therefore, zoos have the opportunity to increase their revenue and perform upgrades, he said.
To become accredited or to have accreditation renewed, zoo officials must complete a questionnaire, and provide copies of zoo policies, procedures, records, lists and reports.
It takes several months to complete the application and six months for the commission to evaluate it. A team of inspectors, including at least one veterinarian, visit the zoo for several days. They interview staff, check records and examine the animal collection and their housing.
To remain accredited, zoos must keep up with standards that are continually raised over the years, according to association officials.
Benefits of zoo accreditation
— Public confidence by meeting or exceeding current professional
— Increases grant eligibility.
— Recognition from top zoological parks in the United States.
— Impartial evaluation by professional colleagues.
— Allows zoo staff to learn from other zoos.
— Improves the ability to attract and retain a high-quality, professional staff.
— Animal exchange with other accredited zoos.
Source: Association of Zoos and Aquariums