Lions, tigers, bears, and...AAHA accreditation? 

Accreditation looks a little wilder now that Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo has become the first zoo in the United States and Canada to earn accreditation by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA).

The zoo’s veterinary hospital earned AAHA accreditation after an extensive evaluation in spring 2015. The newly constructed 7,000-square-foot veterinary hospital opened in October 2014 as the first phase of the new Jacarlene Foundation Animal Care Campus inside the zoo.

“These animals deserve the same standard of care as patients at small animal practices,” said Ray Ball, DVM, lead veterinarian at the zoo. “I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time--we’re excited to be the first zoo hospital to be accredited by AAHA.” 

Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo is a 63-acre nonprofit zoo located in Tampa, Fla. The zoo also has the only nonprofit animal hospital in the world dedicated to caring for injured, sick, and orphaned wild manatees, and works in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to rehabilitate manatees for release back to the wild. The zoo is well-known for its conservation efforts in the Tampa Bay area, throughout the state of Florida, and around the globe. In 2009, the zoo was named the No. 1 Family Friendly Zoo in the United States by Parents Magazine.

The zoo is also accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

For Ball, the animals in his care represent a key component of the human-animal bond.

“I think it’s important to consider the wildlife that is in managed care as companion animals because of the social dependence that we have on them. They are important for teaching children, they’re important for giving people the opportunity to experience animals--you can’t really experience an animal truly until you see it, smell it, and watch it move, those are things you really just can’t capture with technology. The fact that they are living in and amongst us means that we owe them the absolute best that we can,” Ball said. “The AAHA Standards of Accreditation that are established for companion animals already exist, so we are just trying to follow that model and give that level of care to the companion animals that happen to be in a zoological garden.”

To maintain accredited status, the Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo veterinary hospital must continue to be evaluated regularly by AAHA, just like other AAHA-accredited veterinary practices.

 “We’re proud to have the hospital at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo join the ranks of our accredited practices and become the first AAHA-accredited zoo in the United States and Canada,” said Michael Cavanaugh, DVM, DABVP, CEO of AAHA. “This is a big step forward for veterinary medicine--regardless of whether your patient has hooves, wings, shells, or scales, the AAHA Standards of Accreditation raise the level of care that patient receives. It’s been exciting to work with Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo throughout their accreditation evaluation, and we hope to see other non-traditional practices join them for AAHA accreditation in the future. Congratulations to Dr. Ray Ball, the zoo staff, and the city of Tampa on opening such a fine facility and becoming a champion for excellent care.”

Ball says there is no reason wild animals living in zoological gardens shouldn’t receive the same standard of care as other companion animals.

“In zoological gardens, the animals we take care of every day are companion animals,” Ball said. “We live with these animals, they are part of our culture, they are part of our city landscapes, and if you take it in that perspective, there is no reason we shouldn’t strive for the highest level of care in companion animals--AAHA represents that standard.”


Learn more about Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo at lowryparkzoo.com.

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