SANTA ROSA, Calif. - At Safari West all seemed normal on the outside Thursday. But on the inside: "We are devastated," said Keo Hornbostel, executive director of Safari West.
He says he is devastated that the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, or AZA, has denied Safari West's accreditation for the first time since it was initially accredited more than 30 years ago.
The loss of accreditation does not stop the preserve from operating, but it is a loss of prestige in the industry.
"You want to be able to have that on your resume that says you are accredited. And AZA is the gold standard," said Hornbostel.
The independent accreditation commission noted serious concerns with veterinary practices and care, and with how it acquires and removes its animals.
"Members have to show a very high standard of responsibility for where they get animals and where they sell animals to. And that was an issue in this case," said Dan Ashe, President of the AZA.
Safari West is appealing the decision.
It says it has operated the same way for decades in how it acquires animals and sends them to other places without any past AZA objections.
"The basis for their decision was wrong. And that is why we are going through the appeal process. Some of the information they were provided is not accurate," said Hornbostel.
Located outside Santa Rosa in Sonoma County, Safari West draws 70,000 visitors a year to see 98 different species.
The AZA cited problems with having all of its vets on contract working off-site.
"Having our vet care compromised is not true at all. If they are not here we are on the phone with them while they are on their way up here," says Hornbostel.
Safari West says it is hiring a vet next year who will be on the grounds full time.
KTVU spoke with two former employees, one who said Safari West is not the, "fanciful place that it is made out to be."
They criticized the system of veterinary care and questioned the safety of the tour vehicles, an issue that was not raised in the accreditation report.
If Safari West should lose its appeal, it can apply for reinstatement in about a year.
Learn more about Safari West here.