Zoo Accreditation Group suspends Lowry Park Zoo and its CEO Lex Salisbury

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First, the Southwest Florida Water Management District fined the Lowry Park CEO over numerous environmental violations at his for-profit venture Safari Wild.

Then, late last week, the nation's top zoo accreditation group — the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) — suspended its support for Lowry Park Zoo. The reason? Those animal transfers that CEO Lex Salisbury made between the zoo, Safari Wild and his own land in Dade City. The same animal transfers that got him in trouble with Mayor Pam Iorio.

(Which brings up a burning issue for me: Lowry Park Zoo can fail United States Department of Agriculture Inspections detailing failed training policies and substandard enclosures that led to an escaped tiger's death — and still keep accreditation — but transfer a few rhinos and BAM! "You're out buddy!" Anyway...)

The AZA has accredited Lowry Park Zoo for nearly 20 years. And though the zoo's board chairman Bob Merritt brushed off the suspension, telling a Tampa Tribune reporter, "It does nothing. We all have to understand that," the AZA's action is huge blow to the celebrated animal institution.

For one, Lowry Park Zoo could lose its lease with the city, which requires the AZA accreditation because of the zoo's shady past.

And two, without accreditation, Lowry Park Zoo cannot share its animals with other accredited zoos. That means no new animals at the attraction.

But the biggest news for Salisbury is he has personally been kicked off the AZA's membership rolls. He's already on a leave of absence while the city of Tampa conducts an audit of the zoo and his dealings.

The odds of him continuing his $271,000 position at the zoo are looking doubtful.

It's been a bad week for Lex Salisbury.

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