ROANOKE (WSLS 10) – Mill Mountain Zoo loses its accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums due to financial instability.
Although the AZA noted the facility itself and the care for animals still operates at a high standard, it raised concerns about a decline in visitors and revenue. Executive Director Lucy Cook says they aren't surprised by the decision, but are disappointed. She says they've been working for some time to improve their financial situation.
"Unfortunately, the AZA's increasingly stringent standards for financial stability and sustainability have been steadily rising and the Zoo's transformational change work which is supported by Roanoke City, Roanoke County, Virginia Tech and Virginia's Blue Ridge Convention & Visitors Bureau, couldn't overcome a 10-20 year history of tentative finances and the Zoo was informed that it would not receive accreditation."
She says the change will not affect the visitors experience at the zoo.
"It doesn't really change a lot about what is here on the mountain top and what our visitors are seeing. But in the long-term it is going to help us push the community and to push the local government to say we need some investment in this place if we are going to continue with it," Cook said.
The zoo will continue to operate with its USDA license.
Cook says expansion plans and two new animals could boost visitors, as well as new focus on animals from the Appalachian Region.
More on the AZA's decision:
The AZA's primary concern was the history of fiscal instability at the Zoo and echoed what current Zoo leadership had already acknowledged in their work towards transformational change at the Zoo. Those concerns are:* The current infrastructure of the zoo is aged and in need of significant updating to reflect more modern animal enclosures and facility amenities. The improvements needed will require a substantial public-private investment.* The lack of regional state and local government support for Mill Mountain Zoo over the last 10-20 years has placed disproportionate and unrealistic demands on the community's philanthropic base when considered with the overall demands of the region's arts and cultural community leaving the Zoo with constantly having to operate at a deficit.* The Zoo is not currently able to take full advantage of its location adjacent to the Roanoke Star, the City's Discovery Center, the Mill Mountain Wildflower Garden and the Blue Ridge Parkway due to a lack of a cohesive management model that utilizes all the attributes of this unique park location.
The Zoo is open seven days a week, 10am - 4pm until November when it goes to winter hours.