JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - As the City of Jackson put off the date to turn over the Jackson Zoo to the winning bid of the Request for Proposal that was posted just about a year ago, the Zoo itself has hung in limbo.
“We’re now on our third extension and to be honest, that’s what’s our biggest challenge right now," said Amile Wilson, Vice President of the Jackson Zoological Society. "We’ve lost sponsors, we’ve lost attendance, because people don’t know what is happening. We want a decision that will enable us or whoever to take care of this facility.”
The current management lease is about to expire, so unless something changes, the City will hand the reins of the Jackson Zoo to Zooceanarium LLC, a St. Louis-based for-profit organization, on October 1. The Jackson Zoological Society is non-profit.
When the city chose ZoOceanarium’s bid to take over the Zoo, they didn’t have a Class C license, which is a necessity if you’re going to house and display animals. And roughly eight months later, they still don’t.
And even as the city put the Zoo in new and so far unqualified hands, they asked the Zoological society for a big favor. The Zoological Society owns all but two of the Zoo’s roughly 350 animals.
“The city has asked us to donate the animals and my understanding is that we can’t even do that until there’s a license in effect,” Wilson said.
The USDA confirms that ZoOceanarium still doesn’t have a class C license, but that they are in the process of getting one. It’s not clear when that process will be complete, though the USDA said it “depends on compliance.”
This time last year the Zoo had 27,000 more visitors on the books than they do this year. Some worry that if the gates close while the zoo waits on ZoOceanarium’s licensure, they might never open up again.
City spokeswoman Candice Cole said the contract is under discussion, and the city can't comment.
Wilson said the Zoological Society's primary concern is for the animals. According to Interim Director Dave Wetzel, every one of the animals deserves to be well-taken care of.
“Big Mike, our rhino, is one of the favorites, the chimps are one of the favorites. The red roof lemurs, the flamingoes," said Wetzel. "It’s all relative, some like a (particular) bird, some like a (particular) mammal, and some people like the snakes in the backyard creatures building.”
We also attempted to reach ZoOceanarium through the “Contact Us” page on their website, but we have not yet heard back from them. We are also having a hard time finding out who their owner or owners are.