For several years, the goal at Great Bend’s Brit Spaugh Zoo has been to gain accreditation from the American Zoos and Aquariums Association. Now Zoo Director Scott Gregory says he’s ready to apply for the coveted AZA stamp of approval — one year ahead of schedule.
The application deadline for this year is March 1, Gregory said. Once the application is processed, the accreditation organization will probably schedule a summer inspection. There’s a long list of criteria for becoming an AZA facility. Fewer than 10 percent of the approximately 2,400 animal exhibitors licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture are AZA accredited.
At this time, the zoo staff are continuing to work on improvements — such as expanding the size of the black bear exhibit, putting up more fencing and adding four-foot overhangs to the fences around the tigers.
Other improvements are equally important but will never be seen by the average zoo visitor, Gregory said. "The biggest thing we’re doing right now is renovation of our inside exhibits." These are the cages inside the exhibits — where animals go when they are shut up for the night. "Some of them are pretty rusted up," he said. So, the metal cages are being ground clean and receiving a fresh coat of paint.
If all goes as hoped, after the AZA inspection, the zoo will be given a list of other improvements that must be made — and a year to complete them while listed as a probationary member. Gregory said the zoo’s gradual move toward this goal hasn’t been done by one person. He expressed gratitude to the city council for providing the necessary staff and resources.
"If it weren’t for the City of Great Bend to be so supportive of the AZA effort, we wouldn’t be able to do it," he said.
One thing the zoo will need for accreditation is an education intern — someone who has a background in education and who would be willing to work at the zoo for three months without pay. The zoo is also looking to fill a paid, part-time maintenance position, and always has a need for volunteers who are good at maintenance work, Gregory said.