Pittsburgh Zoo is starting the accreditation course of and can be again consistent with town lease

The Pittsburgh Zoo is working on accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, a process that will bring it back into line with the terms of its lease with the City of Pittsburgh, according to a letter sent to Mayor Bill Peduto on Friday.

Last year it turned out that the zoo has been violating its lease for years as one of the conditions requires the zoo to be accredited by the AZA. The zoo ended its accreditation with the association in 2015 due to its safety policy restricting unprotected contact between elephants and keepers.

In a letter to the mayor, the zoo’s president and manager, Dr. Barbara Baker that the board voted on March 11th to “begin accreditation immediately”.

She also requested an extension of the lease by one year, which should expire on December 31, 2022.

“Given the Covid-19 pandemic, we believe that extending the zoo’s original rental terms for a year will give us ample time to complete the accreditation process,” wrote Baker, noting that the process could take 18 months or more .

She said 23 zoo workers were on vacation “simply for budget reasons”.

Peduto chief of staff Dan Gilman said he was “thrilled with the zoo’s decision”.

The revelation regarding the zoo’s breach of the terms of its lease came during discussions of a proposed city ordinance regulating crocodiles and alligators after a number of streets were found on the city’s streets in the summer of 2019.

The proposed legislation would prohibit the sale and ownership of alligators, crocodiles, and a species of turtle known as the red-eared scrub. Zoos were exempt as long as they were accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

The zoo would have violated the regulation – and the lease.

The Covid-19 pandemic has pushed the reptile bill into the background, which has taken place in the committee’s last eleven meetings. It was held again last month for another four weeks.

Councilor Bruce Kraus said on Feb.25 that progress is being made.

“We are still working on it,” he said at the time, noting that the council will resume the bill on March 24th.

Jaime Szoszorek, a spokeswoman for the zoo, said the decision was made “after much thought and discussion”.

“As we are continually evaluating our partnerships, the Pittsburgh Zoo staff and board of directors had determined over the past few months that it was in the best interest to move in that direction,” she said.

The accreditation process, said Szoszorek, will “remain confidential until further notice”.

The zoo reopened this month with reduced opening hours and improved security measures.

The zoo is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. until April. The entrance gates close at 3 p.m. On Memorial Day weekend, the gates close at 4 p.m. and the zoo is open until 5 p.m.

Megan Guza is a contributor to Tribune Review. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, mguza@triblive.com, or on Twitter.

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