A group of activists who pushed to keep the Baton Rouge Zoo at Greenwood Park announced Wednesday that their fight is not over and that they have created a committee to develop a strategic plan for the zoo in the wake of it losing accreditation.
The yearlong offensive from the Keep the Zoo at Greenwood Park group helped lead to last week's defeat of a proposal by BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight and zoo Director Phil Frost to relocate the zoo to Airline Highway Park.
Days after BREC's governing board voted unanimously to keep the zoo in north Baton Rouge, the nationally lauded Association of Zoos and Aquariums denied the zoo its 40-year-old accreditation.
“Absence of this accreditation is also an absence of public trust,” said Becky Bond, one of the leaders of the group, at a Wednesday news conference.
The Baton Rouge Zoo has lost its 40-year-old accreditation from the national Association of Zoos and Aquariums, an honor that zoo officials ha…
Keep the Zoo at Greenwood Park called on BREC to hire an independent third party to investigate the agency’s management of its zoo and its parks.
The group said it has tapped Southern University veterinarian Renita Marshall and Baton Rouge Area Chamber business development head Donnie Miller to lead a commission that will push for the zoo to regain accreditation and help the zoo develop a sustainable business model.
In a written response Wednesday, McKnight said BREC is looking at designs that have already been developed for the current zoo site, and that they hope to turn those designs into a master plan. McKnight said the master plan process will include public input and that they will welcome ideas from everyone but that the planning efforts will be “led by experts with decades of experience in doing so.”
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A parade of speakers at BREC's meeting on March 22 laid into McKnight and BREC’s leadership, accusing them of poor management of the zoo. East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome called the zoo a “victim of the status quo,” and others wondered why the zoo appeared to have been starved of funding and resources over the past decade or so.
McKnight defended management of the zoo on Wednesday, pointing out that BREC spent $8.6 million on zoo maintenance between 2004 and 2017. Some of the most significant investments, she said, included a $3.1 million spend in 2007 on the zoo’s entrance, restrooms and plaza, along with a $3.4 million spend in 2010 on the zoo’s tiger exhibit.
The BREC leader also said the input from voters when BREC planned its last two major tax elections was a desire for trails and community parks, rather than focusing on the zoo. Still, McKnight said that the largest funding allocation from BREC’s 2014 Imagine Your Parks 2 plan is the $5 million set aside for the zoo.
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“To state that the zoo’s decline is due to intentional negligence is categorically false and borderline defamatory toward the many men and women who work at the Zoo, and who have dedicated their entire professional careers to the safekeeping and well-being of animals,” McKnight said in a statement Wednesday. “As we have said all along, BREC’s budget must be allocated to more than 180 parks and facilities across the parish and simply is not large enough to fund the scope of the renovations needed at the Zoo.”
Metro Councilwoman Chauna Banks, who has helped lead the Keep the Zoo at Greenwood group, has repeatedly called on McKnight and Frost to resign. Banks said Wednesday that her group is bypassing McKnight and Frost with their complaints and taking their ideas directly to BREC Board of Commissioners.
The commission reached a turning point when it voted against McKnight’s zoo proposal last week, Banks said, and she’s hopeful it will be receptive to her ideas.
“It’s taken them a while to realize the trust and confidence they put into Superintendent McKnight and Phil Frost was taken advantage of,” Banks said.
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