ZoOceanarium will not pursue further operations of Jackson Zoo

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JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – Leaders with the ZoOceanarium Group announced they will not further pursue the operations of the Jackson Zoo. This comes after Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba tapped the group in 2019 to take over management of the zoo.

ZoOceanarium Managing Partner Chris Davis confirmed the news in an email to WJTV 12 News.

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

Davis continued, “Over the time we have been engaged with the City, we encountered voices of hope and optimism about the Zoo’s future and about how our involvement would help change the trajectory of the Zoo. That included Councilman Tillman as well as people in the Mayor’s office. Certainly, Mayor Lumumba’s vision for the zoo was inspirational, and very much so aligned with our own. Unfortunately, it became clear to us that despite Mayor Lumumba’s efforts and good intentions and our continued good faith discussions, there were a few council members who were hostile towards the idea of the zoo being managed by an experienced third party management team.”

The zoo was previously managed by the Jackson Zoological Society. The facility closed in 2019 to undergo renovations and a change in management, but has since reopened on weekends and will open on more weekdays starting in May 2021.

Davis said for the zoo to succeed the community must come together to support it.

“The trajectory of the zoo needs to be reversed; it’s decline started during the last management company’s involvement, was heightened by the long delay between contracts and was multiplied by the challenges caused by the pandemic. If there are council members who disparage the zoo, and are hostile towards anyone who’s sole goal is to make it successful, then we are not setup to succeed,” he said.

Davis also expressed that the group’s interest has always been the wellbeing of the animals at the facility. He said after two and a half years of negotiations, the group doesn’t see a “collaborative pathway forward.”

Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba released a statement about ZoOceanarium’s decision.

In the past year, we’ve gone from our zoo being closed to regaining our USDA license to having a successful limited reopening. 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. We encourage everyone to come out to visit and support the Jackson Zoo. Detailed information about hours, tickets and events can be found at www.jacksonzoo.org.

Chokwe A. Lumumba, Mayor of Jackson

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