Lowry Park Zoo and city officials breathed a huge sigh of relief Friday after a national association restored the zoo's accreditation at a meeting in Oklahoma City.
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums had suspended Lowry Park's membership in December after learning of private dealings between the zoo and its former president, Lex Salisbury.
Since then, zoo leaders have worked to fix the policies that allowed Salisbury to buy, borrow and receive as gifts animals that belonged to the taxpayer-supported facility.
"We're proud of them for making the changes that allowed them to be reinstated. I know it took a lot of work," said Santiago Corrada, administrator of neighborhood services for the city of Tampa and a member of the zoo's executive committee. "It's a great day for the zoo. It's time to move on and move forward and hopefully put all this stuff behind us."
Salisbury resigned from his zoo post after a 60-page city audit concluded last year that he had used zoo animals, materials and employees for his personal enrichment, at a cost of more than $200,000 to the zoo.
Mayor Pam Iorio launched the investigation after news reports exposed blurred lines between the zoo and Salisbury's private ventures, which included his residential ranch in Pasco County and Safari Wild, a private, yet-to-open exotic animal park in Polk County.
A number of zoo animals died on Salisbury's properties, according to the city audit.
In the wake of the scandal, the AZA suspended Salisbury's individual membership in the organization and the membership of Larry Killmar, the zoo's director of collections. Killmar oversees the transfer of zoo animals.
Salisbury did not appeal his suspension from the AZA, according to Steve Feldman, the organization's spokesman.
Killmar's membership was reinstated Friday. He remains employed at the zoo.
Corrada said Killmar worked hard on beefing up the Lowry Park Zoo's species survival program, which was a major sticking point for the AZA.
The vote of the AZA board to reinstate the zoo and Killmar was unanimous. A progress report is required in six months.
"We are very pleased," Craig Pugh, the zoo's acting director, said in a prepared statement. "Throughout this process we have focused on taking action to ensure best practices in all areas of operations at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo."
The accreditation process includes evaluation of records and a rigorous site visit. Fewer than 10 percent of the approximately 2,400 animal exhibitors licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture are accredited by the AZA. To maintain membership, organizations must undergo the accreditation process every five years.
The organization also renewed the accreditation of the Florida Aquarium this week.
"I'm extremely proud of our team and their passion for the aquarium," said Thom Stork, the aquarium's president and CEO.
"It is an honor having a group of our peers recognize our commitment to excellence."
Janet Zink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3401.