Zoo could 'die a slow death,' BREC official says in leaked audio

Zoo could 'die a slow death,' BREC official says in leaked audio
BREC's Baton Rouge Zoo (Source: WAFB)

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Less than eight hours before BREC commissioners are set to vote on whether to relocate BREC's Baton Rouge Zoo, a number of recordings were leaked to the media from an anonymous source, only identifying themselves as "zoo friends." The anonymous group confirms to 9News that a BREC employee did capture the recording during a staff meeting. A BREC spokeswoman confirms that they also believe that the leaked audio was created by an employee within BREC.

The recordings appear to be of BREC commissioner Carolyn McKnight speaking to a group of people the anonymous source refers to as BREC commissioners and other agency leaders.

In those recordings, McKnight, among other things, appears to be heard identifying potential donors willing to fund some of the efforts to relocate the Baton Rouge Zoo to a site other than its current Greenwood Park location in the northern part of the parish. This seems to go against McKnight's previous public statements that she had not yet identified any funding sources specifically and that the agency has not yet moved ahead with exactly how they would fund the project. So far, the agency's leader has only said publicly that she hopes to secure private donors and that incorporating a tax into the plan would be of last resort.

Other comments from the leaked recordings appear to reveal McKnight sarcastically saying that she would love to hand over control of the zoo to another group adding, "that would make my day." The recordings also appear to show McKnight saying that if commissioner would not vote to move the zoo, that it would "die a slow death", suggesting that the funding is not available to sustain the attraction in its current location.

It also appears McKnight can be heard saying that she did not care if the state fair moved out of Baton Rouge to another location if the zoo were to locate to the Airline Highway location, "it's not a real fair anyway. It's more of like a carnival," the recording appears to reveal her saying.

McKnight issued the following response to the recording:

It is unfortunate that an employee would secretly record an internal meeting between staff and I that was specifically being held to provide them with information on where we are in the process in an effort to be transparent with employees as well as the public.

The anonymous group, "zoo friends," also sent a statement to 9news:

A brave BREC employee did record Carolyn McKnight. This employee should be commended for exposing the truth to this community. We are simply a group of concerned citizens who want what is best for ALL of Baton Rouge. From Zachary to Santa Maria, literally from border to border of this parish, black and white are saying invest in the Zoo in its current location in Greenwood Park. We have chosen to remain  anonymous like the BREC employee, for fear of being targeted by McKnight and her goons. The community deserves to know the truth, not the stories Carolyn McKnight has fed the public.

BREC commissioners are set to vote on the fate of the zoo at a public meeting at 5 p.m.

EDITORIAL NOTE:  WAFB has reviewed the audio files. The quality of the files was poor for redistribution purposes which is why we did not include them in this report.


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