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Company exits from Jackson Zoo management contract talks

April 21, 2021 GMT

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A company is withdrawing from more than two years of discussions about taking over management of the zoo in Mississippi’s capital city.

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba announced in 2019 that he wanted ZoOceanarium Group to operate the Jackson Zoological Park, but the City Council had not yet approved a contract.

ZoOceanarium Group Managing Partner Chris Davis confirmed to WLBT-TV on Wednesday that the company — which is registered in Missouri — would no longer be involved in the Jackson project.

“It was a very tough decision for us to make, but indeed, after participating in two and a half years of good faith negotiations, we did let the city know that we will not be further pursuing the operations of the zoo,” Davis wrote in an email.

Lumumba said in a statement Wednesday that he still wants people to visit and support the Jackson Zoo.

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“In the past year, we’ve gone from our zoo being closed to regaining our USDA license to having a successful limited reopening,” Lumumba said. “Momentum has not stopped on improvements and investment in the park. It is unfortunate that the contract with ZoOceanarium Group did not work out. But, we are confident in our team. We are looking forward to expanding our hours for the zoo this May and to bringing a full schedule back by the end of the summer.”

ZoOceanarium officials faced questions at a Jackson City Council meeting earlier this year, with one council member asking why a proposed contract did not require the new managers to obtain accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Accreditation shows that the zoo is meeting certain standards in animal care, and it would allow the zoo to participate in programs such as the AZA’s Species Survival Program, which could bring new animals to the park.

“There were a few council members who were hostile towards the idea of the zoo being managed by an experienced third-party management team,” Davis said.

The zoo was previously managed by the Jackson Zoological Society. Between 2007 and 2018, attendance fell from 184,000 to 74,000. In July 2019, an analysis by WLBT showed attendance had dropped an additional 30,000 from the previous year.

The society’s contract expired in 2020 and was not renewed. The city’s parks department has been managing the zoo since then.