What's New at Honolulu Zoo?

The Honolulu Zoo has been working on improvements. We checked in to find out how things are coming along.

An artist’s rendering of the new Honolulu Zoo entrance.

Rendering: Courtesy Dept. of Design and Construction

In 2005, the Honolulu Zoo lost its Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) certification, after scoring poorly on an inspection. Since then, zoo officials, along with the City and County of Honolulu, have been on a long, difficult journey not only to bring the zoo back up to par with national standards, but also to raise its profile in the local community.

“It  was a wake-up call,” says Sid Quintal, director of Enterprise Services, a branch of city government that oversees entertainment venues such as the zoo, the Neal S. Blaisdell Center and the Waikiki Shell. AZA officials shelved the zoo’s certification, citing issues such as poor record keeping, insufficient staffing, poor maintenance and a small collection of animals. The news hit Quintal while he was trying to get more funding for the zoo from the City Council. “I took some flack for it,” he says, but, he decided, “I’m in charge, I have the authority, I have the responsibility and I’m going to make a difference, and we did.”

Quintal says the zoo is now almost fully staffed, records are back up to date and, as seen with the arrival of a new male lion and a playmate on the way, exhibits are being filled.

In addition to the required changes mandated by AZA, Quintal and his staff are searching for a new zoo director and waiting to begin construction on the new elephant exhibit—a 31,000-square-foot grassy area that will feature two large pools, open space and logs for the animals to play with. “You’ll see small differences in the spider monkey habitats by the end of November,” says acting zoo director Tommy Higashino. “We’re also painting the bird habitats, and adding other small elements to other exhibits.”

The underlying mission is to promote the zoo as a destination for the wider community, rather than as just a traditional, family
based activity. “People who come to the zoo are in one of three phases in life,” says Higashino. “They’re either here as kids, as adults with their kids or as grandparents with their grandchildren. We need to find a way to bridge those phases in people’s lives.”

Quintal spoke of adding more adult-focused programs, like a stage for a lecture series and a restaurant overlooking the new elephant habitat, as innovative ways to bring more people to the zoo.

The zoo has resubmitted its application to the AZA, and is awaiting inspection sometime next year.

Photo: Courtesy Hawaii Tourism Japan


Coming Soon

After the Honolulu Zoo regains its AZA accreditation, Sid Quintal, director of Enterprise Services, hopes to add an attraction that will feature Hawaii’s indigenous flora and fauna. He’s also hoping to partner with the Bishop Museum to make the exhibit more culturally themed, conveying the story of how Hawai‘i became home to many animals and people. “That’s going to be our next big construction project,” he says.