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Zoo needs upgrades to keep accreditation

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Published:   |   Updated: March 20, 2013 at 05:43 PM
TAMPA -

Lowry Park Zoo has one year to bring an aging veterinary clinic, manatee hospital and boardwalk up to current industry standards, according to an evaluation by an agency that oversees the nation's zoos and aquariums.

Members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums recently performed a site visit to determine if the Tampa zoo would be accredited for another five years, zoo officials said. This time, the association discovered that three attractions at the zoo, rated by Parents Magazine as the best in the country, were not up to par.

Lowry Park will remain accredited during this grace period and be re-evaluated next March. If the improvements meet the association's guidelines, the zoo will keep its accreditation for another five years.

The cost of improving "the oldest parts of the oldest exhibits" is about $2 million, said Craig Pugh, the zoo's chief executive officer.

The association found no concerns with animal or visitor safety.

"There are no surprises," Pugh said about the association's ruling this month. "This AZA recommendation is really a blessing, because it reinforces our priorities."

The suggested refurbishments were on the zoo's to-do list before the association gave its evaluation, Pugh said.

The nonprofit, city-owned zoo will need donations from the community to complete the projects, he said.

"We've got our work cut out for us, but we have a very supportive community," Pugh said.

The manatee hospital has been taxed this year with a record number of animal patients because of the unusually cold winter, zoo spokeswoman Rachel Nelson said.

The structure is more than 20 years old, she said, and water pumps and filters must be updated with current technology.

The veterinary clinic also is more than 20 years old, and zoo officials say they would like to revamp it to include a science center. Funding for the undertaking was included in the zoo's last fiscal year report, but Nelson said zoo officials acknowledge it will be a challenge to build a new facility.

"It's good to have plans in place, and the AZA appreciates that," she said. "But it's nothing like having a facility on the ground."

The zoo also must revamp a boardwalk that is about a quarter-mile long, Pugh said. The boardwalk is structurally sound, but older sections must be replaced.

The association evaluates 20 to 30 zoos and aquariums annually. Some get a probationary period such as Lowry Park, some are denied and others get the full five-year accreditation.

"We're really encouraged that we remain accredited, and we feel we can make progress with the time given to us," Nelson said.


Information from The Associated Press was used in this report. Reporter Ray Reyes can be reached at (813) 259-7920.

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