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ZooMontana Granted Accreditation After Loss In 2011

A red panda relaxes at ZooMontana
Jim Bowen
Flickr CC BY 2.0
A red panda relaxes at ZooMontana

ZooMontana, the only zoo and botanical garden in the state, achieved a major milestone today.

A kookaburra named Sidney laughs at ZooMontana. She's just one of the over 80 animals that live at the only true zoological and botanical park within a 500 miles radius of Billings. She could be announcing that her home on the west end of Billings was just granted accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ independent accreditation commission.

ZooMontana’s Executive Director Jeff Ewelt says this recognition is a big deal.

“Out of the thousands of animals facilities around the country only just over 200 are accredited. What it means is it’s a gold stamp of approval that we are doing things right. That we are taking what we do here seriously and it helps us to gratify all the hard work that we have put in,” Ewelt says.

The accreditation helps with securing grants, lowering insurance costs and eases in housing animals loaned from other zoos.

ZooMontana was accredited at one time. But AZA revoked it back in 2011, citing, among other things, the financial and internal struggles of the zoo.

Ewelt said that was a dark day in the zoo’s history but he said over the past eight years he, the staff and the zoo’s board of directors have worked to turn the zoo around.

This year the zoo submitted a new application. In May it was visited by a three-person team of trained zoo and aquarium professionals who evaluated things such as the facility’s operations, animal care, staff training and safety of visitors in its detailed report. They praised ZooMontana for the buy-in by staff and volunteers, the educational programs provided by the zoo and the financial diversity.

“That they loved the fact that we were able to diversify our finances, our financial picture and were able to bring in other ways other admission. As an organization that doesn’t receive any kind of tax dollars or what have you that was important for us to do and for them to recognize it on that level was really meant a lot to us,” Ewelt says.

To continue to receive this accreditation ZooMontana, and all other zoos with accreditation, must reapply every five years.

ZooMontana first opened its doors on its 70-acre complex nearly 20 years ago.

Kay Erickson has been working in broadcasting in Billings for more than 20 years. She spent well over a decade as news assignment editor at KTVQ-TV before joining the staff at YPR. She is a graduate of Northern Illinois University, with a degree in broadcast journalism. Shortly after graduation she worked in Great Falls where she was one of the first female sports anchor and reporter in Montana.