BREC responds after calls grow for agency to cut ties with superintendent, zoo director

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Councilwoman Chauna Banks and the Keep the Zoo at Greenwood Park Committee (KZAG) held a news conference Wednesday calling for immediate change in leadership at BREC and the Baton Rouge Zoo.

The press conference was held in the wake of the announcement that BREC has lost its zoo accreditation.

The group also announced a plan to create a commission that will be chaired by Renita Marshall, D.V.M,  department head for Agricultural Sciences, Southern University Land Grant Campus and Donnie Miller, director of Business Development, Baton Rouge Area Chamber to develop a strategic plan for the Baton Rouge Zoo at Greenwood Park.

Banks says the time is up for leaders at BREC and the zoo and she is calling on the BREC commission to take action.

"It is up to the commissioners to make sure that proper leadership and the restoration of public trust takes place," said Banks.

She and activists like Becky Bond with KZAG, who fought to keep the zoo in its current location, also want a third-party independent investigation into how the attraction has fallen into such poor conditions, alleging administrators have done very little to stop it.

"The issues that have plagued our zoo are not new, nor are they related to location. By all accounts, they appear to be related to mismanagement," said Bond.

BREC superintendent Carolyn McKnight slammed the claims in a statement released Wednesday. "To state that the zoo's decline is due to intentional negligence is categorically false and borderline defamatory. I invite anyone making such accusations to provide any sort of evidence to support these false claims," the statement reads.

McKnight says they have pumped $8.6M into the zoo over the past 13 years to create new exhibits and amenities and another $2M in maintenance in the past decade. As for the loss of accreditation, zoo director, Phil Frost, said in a news conference earlier this week that the decision was made simply because of the age of the facilities, not due to neglect.

"The main reason behind the decision was our aging facilities that in so many cases, no longer meet the modern standards of today's zoos," said Frost.

Frost admits some of the concerns from the accrediting committee also fell on the recent decision by the BREC commission to not move the facility from north Baton Rouge. "The accreditation commission had several questions related to the recent vote by the BREC commission to not move the zoo and how that would affect the physical changes needed," said Frost.

With renovating the zoo top of mind, McKnight in a statement vowed they are working hard to move forward. "We welcome the ideas of everyone into our planning efforts being led by experts with decades of experience," the statement reads.

Banks now questions the timing of the accrediting blow, saying it's too close for comfort. She and others concerned about the facility's future are now forming a separate commission to ensure bringing the zoo back to life is a priority.

"There's a lot at stake here," said Banks. "You don't wait until it caves in and that's what this is like."

BREC released an in depth statement and several documents about the zoo on Wednesday afternoon. The information can be found below.

Recently, comments have been made regarding the need for a strategic plan and additional investments for the Baton Rouge Zoo at Greenwood Park. It is important to note recent history as it relates to this call for investment and supporting plans, particularly taking into account the clear direction previously provided on multiple occasions by the citizens of East Baton Rouge Parish.

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