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Zoo’s latest five-year accreditation is a tribute to Fernandes’ leadership

The Buffalo Zoo’s five-year accreditation from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with one of the city’s finest cultural assets.

And as the eighth consecutive five-year accreditation from the association, it is a high achievement.

The association is the body for top-ranking zoos in the United States and internationally. Less than 10 percent of zoos in the country win the association’s accreditation.

It is, indeed, a tribute to the leadership by Donna Fernandes, the zoo’s president and chief executive officer, who thankfully returned to Buffalo shortly after leaving several years ago for another opportunity out West.

Fernandes has the expertise and vision required to not just run a major organization, but to see the bigger long-term picture and gather support to make it happen.

The zoo has come a long way from where it was several years ago. In 2006 the zoo association delayed its accreditation over concerns that the elephant and veterinary facilities were not up to par. The zoo was able to raise more than $2 million to expand the Elephant House to meet modern zoo standards and make other changes, such as the building of an aseptic surgery suite for the veterinary hospital.

Once struggling to gain adequate county financing under a previous administration, Fernandes has done a good job of convincing doubters of the zoo’s value to the community.

Staying on the path forward requires support from the city, county and state, along with generous private donations. Fernandes thanked the City of Buffalo and Erie County for their support for the zoo and its operations, in addition to New York State for its capital support.

The accreditation commission undertook a rigorous on-site inspection last summer. The inspection examined animal care, keeper training, conservation, finances, education and visitor services, research and safety.

One particular point of pride: the Buffalo Zoo was cited as a leader in helping to save the Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake and hellbenders, the largest salamander in New York State, as Dr. Jeffrey Wyatt, a member of the AZA’s accreditation commission, described. He also heaped praise on the new polar bear exhibit.

Wyatt summed it up: “The AZA accreditation really recognizes the Buffalo Zoo as a gem for Buffalo, and very importantly, an inspiration for stewards of the environment, present and future, with its strong educational programs, beautiful exhibits and amazing staff.”

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