The Baton Rouge Zoo has lost its 40-year-old accreditation from the national Association of Zoos and Aquariums, an honor that zoo officials have touted in the past to defend their history of maintaining the zoo and providing quality care for the animals.

The accreditation decision came over the weekend and the Baton Rouge Zoo announced it Monday, on the heels of a vote last week to keep the Baton Rouge Zoo at Greenwood Park in north Baton Rouge. BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight and Zoo Director Phil Frost pushed for a relocation to Airline Highway Park, but they met fierce backlash from residents who argued the zoo had been neglected and questioned why the zoo could not be revitalized at its longtime home.

Following through on the requests made at the March 22 public hearing for a better zoo at Greenwood Park is now imperative if the Baton Rouge Zoo wants to regain its accreditation. Inspectors from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums were especially troubled by the zoo’s aging infrastructure, noting that circular cages with tin roofs, for example, are no longer appropriate for modern zoos.

Frost said Monday the zoo will need extensive fundraising to replace outdated habitats that were among the reasons they lost accreditation. The Baton Rouge Zoo was one of only three in Louisiana — and part of the coveted 10 percent nationwide — to boast AZA accreditation. The zoo’s exhibits for bears, a jaguar, birds, rhinos and more need major upgrades, Frost said.

He and McKnight previously estimated it would cost $110 million to rebuild the zoo, regardless of whether they kept it at Greenwood Park or moved it elsewhere. State Rep. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, pledged to earmark state funding to help fund the zoo at its current site, and Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome also promised to help find funding sources.

“We’ve never had this much local commitment and support for the zoo in the zoo’s history,” Frost said Monday during a news conference near the zoo’s giraffe exhibit, which he pointed to as one of many outdated facilities built in the 1960s.

“It was not until the Audubon Zoo was called an ‘animal ghetto’ that the community really rallied and said, we need to make this a better zoo,” he added. “It was not until Mayor Andrew Young of Atlanta went out and saw his namesake, which was a polar bear, sitting on concrete with a big block of ice, that he said, no, we can do better than that.”

A list of concerns from the accrediting agency shows that inspectors were worried about, among other things, three animal escapes within 16 months, a lack of lighting near animal exhibits, and the outdated facilities.

Frost said the animal escapes AZA referenced were the only ones within the past six years. They involved a rhino that wandered into a buffer zone but never left his main exhibit, two lemurs that briefly strayed from their containment area, and a spider monkey that escaped from his enclosure. All of the animals were quickly placed back in their habitats and the incidents presented no threat to the public, Frost said.

Inspectors also brought up a 2016 incident when dogs broke into the zoo overnight and killed three monkeys. The monkey deaths were especially high-profile because of a string of animal deaths at the zoo during the spring and summer of 2016, which included the unexpected deaths of two giraffes and a young tiger.

Audits and investigations immediately after the deaths cleared the zoo staff of wrongdoing. Zoo and BREC officials at the time played up the AZA accreditation as evidence of their fastidious animal care.

The zoo's perimeter fence is one of the concerns AZA cited in a list they sent to the Baton Rouge Zoo. They mentioned the fence and "two previous dog intrusions that resulted in the deaths of animals,” including the monkey deaths. In 2010, dogs entered the zoo grounds one night and killed 17 flamingos.

A back-and-forth between the AZA and zoo officials show how zoo staff attempted to comply with the concerns to re-earn accreditation by closing some exhibits and working on others.

AZA cited small exhibits for some lemurs and monkeys that did not give the primates enough space and that did not "reflect modern zoological practice." The zoo has permanently closed those exhibits and is sending the animals to other zoos.

The zoo's "parrot paradise" exhibit also lacked enough light and had heavy rust in its facilities, according to the AZA report. The zoo closed "parrot paradise" to the public and expects to build new parrot exhibits "in the appropriate geographic areas of the Zoo," zoo officials wrote in their response to the AZA concerns.

Zoo officials also made staffing changes to comply with AZA's requirements. They noted new keeper error resulted in the animal escapes, and said the zoo expanded its training program for new keepers and implemented a check list to evaluate keepers.

The zoo also added two full-time maintenance technicians in February 2018 to help make the necessary repairs and improvements that AZA has suggested.

Frost said Monday, though, the short-term changes zoo staffers made are not enough to get past the dated facilities and other challenges the zoo faces. Still, he maintained the Baton Rouge Zoo will continue to uphold high standards like an accredited facility.

“The only difference is we’re going to take a few signs down that say we’re accredited,” Frost said, praising his staff for their dedication. “I don’t think the visitor’s going to see any difference. Our commitment to quality animal welfare is as strong today as it’s ever been.”

Frost said the Baton Rouge Zoo will work to update, renovate and re-earn accreditation from AZA. Under 10 percent of the 2,800 wildlife exhibitors that have U.S. Department of Agriculture licenses meet AZA requirements, according to the nonprofit organization.

The top-rated zoos in the country are accredited by the AZA, including the San Diego Zoo, the Saint Louis Zoo, Central Park Zoo and others. In Louisiana, the only other zoos with AZA accreditation are the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans and the Alexandria Zoological Park.

Follow Andrea Gallo on Twitter, @aegallo.​