Chattanooga Zoo exec. director embarrassed and sorry over licens - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Chattanooga Zoo exec. director embarrassed and sorry over license lapse

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Staff continued to care for the animals, but guests were not allowed in the park. Staff continued to care for the animals, but guests were not allowed in the park.

For the first time in decades, The Chattanooga Zoo at Warner Park is shut down for business. The zoo is no longer open to the public, and it all comes down to USDA licensing issues.

The zoo is still fully staffed and all animals are being cared for. The executive director tells Channel 3 the zoo made the embarrassing mistake of missing the deadline to apply for a USDA license renewal.

In the meantime, there were several families who showed up at the zoo Tuesday, very disappointed.

For her sixth birthday, Savannah had only one wish.

"To see the animals," she says. And when asked why she could not get in the zoo, she answers, "It was closed."

"We encountered the zoo was closed and don't know why," says Bernadette Sandridge.

Savannah's grandmother, Bernadette Sandridge, came all the way from Lakeland, Florida to celebrate at the Chattanooga Zoo.

"Now we have to go to 'plan B.' Which we didn't even have to begin with," she says with a laugh.

"I'm embarrassed to say that what we have is a clerical error on our part. We failed to turn in our license in an appropriate time, and therefore our license is not current," says Darde Long.

Long is Executive Director of the Chattanooga Zoo. She says zoo staff missed the deadline for renewing its USDA license, which allows them to operate the mammal exhibits.

"We literally failed to mail the application by the deadline. We missed it. It was three days late arriving in their office," says Long.

She says this is the first time in her 28 years at the zoo that its USDA license is not current.

"This has nothing to do with any way that the animals are cared for or the operation of the zoo. It was simply a very busy month for a very over-extended staff who missed a very important deadline."

The zoo has been in the headlines before when federal inspectors came two years ago, after seven animals died in one month, including its most famous resident 'Hank' the chimp.

"We've had some tough times here at the zoo and we're really grateful to those that stood by us. Our animal care staff is top notch and professional," says Long.

In the meantime, the staff is still cleaning enclosures and the zoo's camp program is still going. It is also still open for scheduled birthday parties where kids can see the birds and reptiles. Only the mammals are off-limits.

"It's going to cost us some money and hopefully not too much credibility in the community," says Long.

In June, the Chattanooga Zoo saw about 400 visitors a day during the week.

Long says the zoo is scheduled for a USDA inspection on Thursday and they hope to re-open by Friday or Saturday to take advantage of the weekend crowds. Last month they saw around 1,100 a day on Saturday and Sunday.

Long also says the public can expect some re-opening day specials as a thank you for being patient.

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