Chahinkapa Zoo had the right to appeal the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) denying its continued accreditation. The zoo’s board of directors, however, announced Monday, Nov. 15 that it will forgo the appeal and instead disassociate from the AZA.

Director Kathy Diekman said Chahinkapa Zoo had enjoyed 25 years of continuous accreditation by the AZA until 2021. This year included the zoo’s reaccreditation process. It began with a June 22-23 visit from a team of AZA inspectors.

“Although the inspection contained no concerns regarding animal health or welfare, the final decision with respect to accreditation is decided by the AZA Accreditation Commission,” Diekman said. “The commission denied our continued accreditation.”

The AZA’s two-part report, which Daily News received, highlights points of particular achievement and items of concern. Achievements included:

• “A strong, united and experienced leadership team … The keeper staff, while recently hired into the zoo, are enthusiastic and are given the tools that they need to be successful in their jobs. As a group, the staff are positive and supportive of each other. They are very friendly and welcoming.”

• “The training programs are well received by staff. In addition, the training program has been well received by Dr. (Tim) Matz and the rest of the veterinary team, and has greatly improved the implementation of the preventative medicine program.”

• “The zoo has many partnerships. Notable among them is one with North Dakota State College of Science. The zoo does a fantastic job developing relationships with local police, fire and other municipal partners.”

• “The zoo has made strategic decisions that have generated more revenue and likely improved guests’ experience … The grounds are neat and well-kept. Beautiful gardens are found throughout the zoo. There is virtually no litter on the ground … hospitality was exceptional.”

The report included no major concerns identified from the June inspection. One concern remained from a previous inspection.

“Although the male orangutan (Talukan) has been well cared for and appears to be in good help, he has been housed alone for a number of years,” the AZA wrote.

Other concerns were classified as lesser matters. They include:

• “The zoo should be more proactive in consulting matters such as AZA care manuals, (Species Survival Plan) protocols, etc., in order to make a more comprehensive preventative medicine program.”

• “The Pole Barn where raptors are housed during winter, and which is sometimes used for quarantine, is in poor condition with numerous wild birds housed inside, poor access to natural light, and (is) generally unkempt.”

• “It appears the zoo uses an Equal Employment Opportunity policy in place of a diversity, equity, access and inclusion program. As such, there is no program nor measurable objectives.”

• “The (pheasant) building is slated for renovation, which is to be encouraged. The structure is dated and does not meet modern zoological practices and philosophies.”

Additional points of praise included the “outstanding” browse program that significantly contributes to the enrichment program and the clean and well-maintained Grandpa’s Petting Zoo. Additional points of concern included the need for fire alarms in the Roger Ehnstrom Nature Center and in the kangaroo habitat and for locks or chains to secure many guest barrier gates, the report stated.

Established in the 1930s, Chahinkapa Zoo occupies 18 acres on the north end of Chahinkapa Park. The zoo first received AZA accreditation in 1995, following the 1994 awarding of a grant that helped it achieve accreditation standards, Diekman previously wrote. The zoo estimates that it hosted more than 80,000 visitors in 2020, Daily News reported in June 2021.

“Chahinkapa Zoo will continue to expand our relationship with other conservation partners,” Diekman said. “As always, we will continue to operate the zoo in Wahpeton with the highest degree of concern and care for the exhibits. We will continue to do so under the auspices of the USDA and the North Dakota Animal Board of Health, both of which we hold exemplary status.”

AZA inspectors singled out Diekman, Curator Tom Schmaltz and Lead Zookeeper Addy Paul for their service. Diekman, in her 30th year with Chahinkapa Zoo, was recognized for “outstanding passion and commitment to the organization.”

“(Schmaltz) has experience across the board with every aspect of the zoo,” AZA stated. “(Paul) is extremely driven, energetic, detailed and well-organized. She can be seen moving throughout the day, moving around the zoo with a clear purpose.”

The earliest the zoo could get back in good standing with the AZA is 2023, Forum News Service reported.

Chahinkapa Zoo said it will continue with its conservation partners to work for the plight of endangered species. Zoo staff continue to provide excellent care for the animals and offer superior experiences for thousands of visitors, Diekman said.

“Our commitment to support local, regional and global conservation is at its highest,” Diekman said. “While we are saddened at the AZA’s decision, the Chahinkapa Zoo Association looks forward to new ventures with other partners.”

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