Officials with Roanoke’s Mill Mountain Zoo say the zoo has lost its accreditation with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, not because of animal care, but due to fiscal troubles.
As the zoo struggles with financial instability, zoo leaders say they are looking to bring in more visitors to see the animals.
“We have always been on very shaky ground with our AZA accreditation,” said Lucy Cook, executive director of the Mill Mountain Zoo.
The Mill Mountain Zoo was accredited with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums for several years, Cook said. But the zoo has faced fiscal issues for more than a decade, she added, and while it has made improvements, it couldn’t keep up with more stringent standards for zoo finances and lost its accreditation.
“Our private donors just can’t do it alone,” Cook said. “You can’t run a place like this just on [philanthropy] alone. It just isn’t going to work.”
To help improve finances, the zoo is now trying to develop a new business model to attract more visitors, Cook said.
“We need to start looking at these things as an economic development model,” she said.
Several other groups are also trying to do what they can to help the zoo as well. Cook said zoo officials have been in talks with local government leaders and several other organizations about ways to turn the situation around.
“Lots of people say, ‘Oh you know, I love the zoo.’ and I’ll say, ‘Well, when was the last time you were there?’ ‘Well, not since I was a kid,'” said Chris Morrill, Roanoke city manager. “So we have to find new ways to get people up there.”
Morrill said one of those ways being discussed is marketing the Mill Mountain experience as a whole.
“We have the Discovery Center there, you know, we have the Star, which is a big draw, we have a playground, and we have the zoo,” he said. “How do we make that one experience that all of us can benefit from?”
Cook said the zoo is also considering asking local government for more funding. Roanoke currently leases their land to the zoo for $10 a year and provides $33,000 in funding annually, Morrill said, adding that providing more funding would be decided by the city council.
Meanwhile, Cook said she is optimistic the zoo has a bright future.
“We know that the city, the county, the region wants this place to be here,” she said.
Since the zoo first released information about its accreditation loss, it has raised $1,500 worth of donations in 24 hours alone, Cook said.
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