After spending two days at ZooMontana last week, a pair of site inspectors are in the process of relaying their findings back to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
The AZA committee will base its decision of whether ZooMontana will maintain its AZA accreditation on those findings.
The inspectors met with the zoo board on Friday afternoon.
“The meeting went well,” board president Ian McDonald said. “They weren’t out to get us or anything. They just wanted to know where we were at.”
The zoo’s accreditation came into question in February when the zoo’s financial issues went public. After seeking the community’s help, the zoo raised more than $500,000 in less than a month, and the zoo board is devising a new long-term business plan.
A site visit on Thursday and Friday was conducted by two inspectors, a veterinarian and zoo director.
The inspectors looked into the zoo’s finances, assessed its long-term plan and looked at the relationship between the board and staff and the board and management.
They checked each of the zoo’s 100 or so animals.
At the end of the visit, the zoo board and staff don’t know where things stand.
“Usually you have some hint of what is going on, but I definitely have no clue,” said Daniel Lundquist, the zoo’s director of marketing and development. “It’s neither good, nor bad. It is what it is, and what it is — we don’t know.”
The inspectors will relay their findings to the AZA commission, comprised of 12 members and three advisers.
Steve Feldman, spokesperson for the AZA, said the board is made up of the most highly respected zoo and aquarium professions in the country.
“They bring years of experience to the process, and, to be on the commission, it’s really one of the highest professional honors they can have,” Feldman said. “Many of them are directors of institutions themselves.”
Commission members voluntarily serve up to two three-year terms for a maximum of six years. The advisers are former commission members offering advice during transition periods.
“They will stay on as an adviser for a period of time, so you have consistency,” Feldman said.
Feldman said the commission’s decision about ZooMontana could come at any point between now and the commission’s biannual meeting in September.
Sooner, not later
McDonald is anticipating the decision will come sooner rather than later.
“They kind of threw a little bit of a change at us,” McDonald said. “They said they would try and get a full decision before September for us, so we might not be tabled.
“They are trying to get something a little more firm for us, so we don’t have to go to that September meeting at all.”
If the accreditation is revoked, most of the zoo’s attractions will be in jeopardy. Most are on loan from other AZA-accredited zoos or through the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
How many the zoo would lose is still a question, McDonald said.
“There’s not a switch out there where all these animals need to go right away,” McDonald said. “It’s up to the loan institution; whether or not they want to take them back or what.”
McDonald said the inspectors were pleased with the zoo’s veterinary care.
“They said we were doing a good job with our vet care out there,” McDonald said.
He also said that, in the worst-case scenario, the zoo could petition with the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to keep some of the animals on loan.