updated 3/18/2004 6:08:30 PM ET 2004-03-18T23:08:30

The National Zoo was granted a full five-year accreditation from the American Zoo and Aquarium Association on Wednesday.

The zoo had been operating under a provisional accreditation for the past year, following the deaths of two dozen animals in the past several years. A year ago, two red pandas died after eating rat poison; in 2002 a lion died of complications from anesthesia.

When the association decided not to renew the zoo's accreditation last March for the usual five-year term, it cited concerns about crumbling buildings, insufficient funds and the relative inexperience of zoo director Lucy Spelman.

Spelman was head veterinarian when she was tapped three years ago to run the 114-year-old zoo. She announced her resignation in February, and it is to take effect by year's end.

"We set up an action plan a year ago for the accreditation, and we've met every target that we set," Spelman said Wednesday. "And all of those targets were zoo improvements."

Spelman resigned after the release of an interim report by the National Academies' National Research Council, which is in the midst of a yearlong review of the zoo, requested by Congress. The review panel found deficiencies in care and management at the zoo and members warned the animals' well-being is threatened.

According to the committee, the zoo's animal mortality rate averaged 10.5 percent between 1993 and 2002 — and about 7 percent between 2000 and 2002. The zoo has about 2,600 animals. The committee noted that the fluctuation in the facility's mortality rate is in part due to the aging of the animals.

In January, Spelman acknowledged some record-keeping errors and animal care missteps, but she later insisted the committee's report did not give an accurate picture of recent progress.

The National Zoo attracts nearly 3 million visitors a year, many of whom come to see the giant pandas.

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