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Lowry Park Zoo looks to get back to business

TAMPA — Mayor Pam Iorio said Friday she is satisfied with the resignation of Lowry Park Zoo president Lex Salisbury and thinks the zoo will be able to restore its tarnished reputation.

But Salisbury's forced departure — prompted by his private dealings in zoo animals and assets — has not solved all of the zoo's problems.

Its accreditation with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is still suspended, following the zoo's violations of animal transfer policies and species survival plans.

In March, zoo directors from across the nation will convene as the board of the AZA to decide whether Lowry should regain its seal of approval.

Accreditation is crucial for Lowry. Its lease with the city requires it. And the most respected zoos across the nation look for it when sending their rare, protected animals out on breeding loans.

Satch Krantz, who will be among the voting accreditors, says the zoo has work to do before its March appearance.

A suggestion: "Get their house in order," says Krantz, a zoo director and immediate past chairman of the AZA. "They're going to have to demonstrate that the normal checks and balances that exist within a nonprofit have not only been put in place, but are functioning."

Lowry's board of directors already has instituted more rigorous oversight procedures, including establishing audit, governance and compensation committees and inviting government officials into its most powerful inner circle.

"We're going to structure this thing much like a public company," chairman Bob Merritt says of the private zoo.

He has spoken of hiring an in-house attorney to ensure compliance and putting "very, very firm policies" into place that forbid employees and board members from trading with the zoo.

The mechanisms in existence during Salisbury's long tenure enabled him to buy, loan, trade and receive more than 200 zoo animals for his Pasco County ranch and yet-to-open Polk County exotic animal park.

Salisbury did not respond to messages Friday seeking comment.

As the zoo launches its nationwide search for its next president and CEO, Krantz says a strong business sense and background in nonprofit management should be priorities.

An animal background would be a plus, Krantz said, but it isn't necessary. Three of the AZA's newest zoo directors are former executives of Bank of America, Wachovia and Coca-Cola.

Krantz, whose three decades as executive director of the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden in South Carolina make him one of the longest-tenured zoo directors in the nation, said Lowry should take time to find the right permanent replacement.

In the interim, Lowry's chief operating officer Craig Pugh will run the zoo.

On Lowry's first day in two decades without Salisbury, Pugh was not available to speak to reporters about his plans for the zoo.

He was busy on what the zoo's spokeswoman, Rachel Nelson, called the zoo's first order of business:

"To get back to business."

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

Lowry Park Zoo looks to get back to business 12/19/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 24, 2008 10:31am]

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