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Peoria Zoo prepares for re-accreditation inspection

The entrance to the Peoria Zoo in Glen Oak Park, vacant after the initial early morning rush of schoolchildren and families to enter.
Collin Schopp
Peoria Zoo Director Yvonne Strode says three inspectors will spend a day or two in late May or early June taking a close look at everything.

The Peoria Zoo is up for re-accreditation this year. The process provides a way for the Association of Zoo and Aquariums [AZA] to monitor the quality and care at zoos around the country, while also opening up opportunities for the institutions themselves.

Peoria Zoo Director Yvonne Strode said three inspectors from the AZA will spend a day or two in late May or early June taking a close look at everything, including the zoo’s enclosures, animals, buildings, food, employees and more.

The AZA has given specific feedback before on the zoo’s Tropics building, originally constructed in 1955, said Strode.

“It still looks like a 1955 exhibit,” she said. “And even though the animals, I think, like the accommodations, you want the people to have a certain feeling when they’re looking at these animals.”

The Tropics building originally had bars on enclosures; Strode said they have been replaced with mesh. There used to be lions, tigers and jaguars in the building, which have since been moved to outside enclosures.

A full remodel of the building would involve giving the primates still in the Tropics building outside enclosures, including the zoo’s 50-year-old spider monkey Butch.

“I just can’t wait for Butch to go outside,” said Strode. “And hopefully in this remodel, they’ll have a bit better space out there.”

A rough estimate for remodeling the building is about $5 million, which Strode said the zoo will start fundraising for after locking down an architect for the project in the next few months. Progress like that, she said, is exactly what the AZA is looking for.

“If you told them five years ago, ‘We have plans to do this,’ and after all this time you’ve got nothing to show for it, they’re going to give you the stink eye, as I like to call it,” said Strode. “So we are hoping to have an architect under contract with a clear vision of what that building will go for.”

As another example of improvements the AZA requests, the zoo recently moved the fencing on the tiger enclosure further back. Strode said this was to help eliminate any possibility that even an exceedingly tall person could get close to touching the powerful cats.

The AZA also monitors things like contributions to conservation organizations and participation in scientific studies. As an example, Strode said scientists recently did blood work on the zoo’s rhinoceros, took measurements and even attached a FitBit to learn more about the animal.

“Anytime one of our species has a research program, we try our best to be engaged in that.” said Strode.

Being accredited isn’t just about quality for the zoo. Strode said it also opens up conservation and research opportunities, as well as animal trade opportunities with other member zoos.

“It’s also, we’re part of a larger whole,” said Strode. “You know, we as one institution can’t do a lot to save these species. But when there’s about 240 of us out there all working together, we can do amazing things.”

Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.