Zoo prom­ises go un­ful­filled

The fa­cil­ity cur­rently lacks ac­cred­i­ta­tion, a di­rec­tor and 3 ex­hibits even as taxes pool $5.8M for it

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE - By Al­li­son Schae­fers as­chae­fers@starad­ver­tiser.com

Ayear af­ter the Honolulu Zoo suf­fered an em­bar­rass­ing loss of ac­cred­i­ta­tion from the As­so­ci­a­tion of Zoos & Aquar­i­ums, three zoo ex­hibits are shut­tered and the fa­cil­ity lacks a per­ma­nent di­rec­tor. Mayor Kirk Cald­well and the city’s Depart­ment of En­ter­prise Ser­vices, which runs the zoo, and the former zoo di­rec­tor, Baird Flem­ing, promised to re­gain AZA ac­cred­i­ta­tion, which cer­ti­fies that fa­cil­i­ties

are of­fer­ing the gold stan­dard of an­i­mal man­age­ment and care. City lead­ers pushed for a ded­i­cated zoo fund to ad­dress AZA con­cerns that “fi­nan­cial short­com­ings and in­sta­bil­ity” had re­sulted in “three re­cur­ring five-year AZA ac­cred­i­ta­tion cy­cles of un­der­achieve­ment.”

In Novem­ber, tax­pay­ers ap­proved a char­ter amend­ment ded­i­cat­ing half of one per­cent of real prop­erty taxes to the zoo, which by July is pro­jected to gen­er­ate $5.8 mil­lion of the city’s re­quested $7.8 mil­lion zoo op­er­at­ing bud­get. City and zoo pro­po­nents have touted that fund’s estab­lish­ment as a ma­jor step to­ward re­gain­ing ac­cred­i­ta­tion.

But Flem­ing re­signed in Novem­ber, and the city be­gan look­ing for his per­ma­nent re­place­ment only last Sun­day. Crit­ics are point­ing to the six-month de­lay in search­ing for the zoo’s sixth di­rec­tor in seven years, last week­end’s chim­panzee es­cape, and holdups in the con­struc­tion and open­ing of mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar projects like the hippo ex­hibit and the rep­tile house as por­tents of fur­ther ac­cred­i­ta­tion woes.

“They couldn’t even con­sider get­ting reac­cred­ited by AZA un­til they have a di­rec­tor on board,” said Cathy Goeggel, An­i­mal Rights Hawaii pres­i­dent, who is a former mem­ber of the non­profit Honolulu Zoo So­ci­ety, the zoo’s fundrais­ing and pro­gram­ming arm. “It’s crazy to think they could go ahead and meet all those re­quire­ments with­out one. It’s very, very im­por­tant if they are go­ing to have a zoo to get ac­cred­i­ta­tion. It would give them more stature in the com­mu­nity and it en­sures that a third party is watch­ing out for the an­i­mals.” Depart­ment of En­ter­prise Ser­vices Deputy Di­rec­tor Tracy Kub­ota said the zoo has been op­er­at­ing un­der the stew­ard­ship of In­terim Zoo Di­rec­tor Bill Bal­four and As­sis­tant Zoo Di­rec­tor Linda San­tos. Kub­ota said the lag in ad­ver­tis­ing Flem­ing’s po­si­tion hap­pened be­cause the city “took the time to re­view the pro­gram de­scrip­tion for the zoo di­rec­tor and reached out to staff and stake­hold­ers to dis­cuss the re­cruit­ment prior to post­ing the an­nounce­ment.”

The zoo was el­i­gi­ble to reap­ply for ac­cred­i­ta­tion March 1, but Kub­ota an­tic­i­pates that it won’t reap­ply un­til the fall of 2019.

The “zoo is striv­ing to main­tain AZA stan­dards for an­i­mal wel­fare while con­tin­u­ing to ad­dress de­ferred main­te­nance and up­keep of ex­hibits and fa­cil­i­ties. (The) zoo is also mov­ing for­ward with plans to mod­ern­ize ex­hibits in the zoo in part­ner­ship with the Honolulu Zoo So­ci­ety,” she said.

A visit to the 42-acre zoo on Tues­day did show im­prove­ment since the fa­cil­ity lost ac­cred­i­ta­tion on March 31, 2016. Grounds were bet­ter kept, vol­un­teers were con­duct­ing ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams, and an­i­mal ex­hibits were clean. Un­like last year, there were no ob­vi­ous cracks in glass en­clo­sures, and bath­rooms were clean and stocked with toi­let paper and soap.

BUT THE CHIM­PANZEE ex­hibit was still closed fol­low­ing Sun­day’s at­tempted es­cape. City spokesman An­drew Pereira said in a state­ment that a chim­panzee climbed onto the top of the wall sep­a­rat­ing his ex­hibit and the aviary ex­hibit. His 10-minute es­cape was des­ig­nated as a “code red,” and if he had gone into a public area per­son­nel were in­structed to shoot to kill. “These es­capes could have been very, very se­ri­ous,” Goeggel said. “These an­i­mals are very strong.” The city has been grap­pling with prob­lems at the chim­panzee ex­hibit for sev­eral years. Kub­ota said it made mod­i­fi­ca­tions to ad­dress a pre­vi­ous es­cape and to elim­i­nate rust in the hold­ing area. The zoo was faulted by USDA in­spec­tors in 2014 and 2015 for two pre­vi­ous chim­panzee es­capes and for rusty en­clo­sures, which in­spec­tors said “com­pro­mise the in­tegrity of struc­tures.”

“The zoo is work­ing with con­trac­tors and con­sul­tants to ad­dress the re­pairs and im­prove­ments to the chimp ex­hibit, in­clud­ing rock work and in­stalling ad­di­tional hot wire,” Kub­ota said. “Once the work is done, the chimps will be al­lowed to en­ter the ex­hibit area. They are cur­rently in the back hold­ing area which in­cludes their day pen.”

The rep­tile and am­phib­ian com­plex, which shut down in 2014 for im­prove­ments, also is closed de­spite Flem­ing’s as­sur­ances that it would re­open in the fall of 2016.

“The con­struc­tion por­tion of the rep­tile and am­phib­ian com­plex is wrap­ping up. The ex­hibits are in the process of be­ing in­stalled, as well as land­scap­ing and keeper work space,” Kub­ota said.

The hippo view­ing area has been closed since 2014, when the city or­dered the con­trac­tor to stop work fol­low­ing the un­ex­pected death of one of the two en­dan­gered hip­pos. A vet­eri­nar­ian could not de­ter­mine the cause of Rosey’s death, but the necropsy re­port said “en­vi­ron­men­tal stress could have con­trib­uted.” The sur­viv­ing hippo has not re­turned to the ex­hibit and re­mains tem­po­rar­ily housed in the zoo’s old ele­phant en­clo­sure.

Jonell Steed, a vis­i­tor from Seat­tle, said Tues­day that she and her fam­ily, hus­band Carie Steed and 10-mon­thold daugh­ter Ada­lyn, en­joyed their zoo visit. “We try to take her to a zoo ev­ery­where we visit. She had a won­der­ful time to­day,” Steed said. “Our only com­plaint was that a few of the ex­hibits weren’t open and we were re­ally hop­ing to see the hip­pos.”

Flem­ing said last year that the hippo ex­hibit would re­open by sum­mer 2016, but Kub­ota said work­ers are still mak­ing mod­i­fi­ca­tions to the pool, adding ag­gre­gate to the land­ing area and mak­ing re­pairs to the view­ing glass.

CITY COUN­CIL­MAN

Trevor Ozawa, who formed a zoo work­ing group nearly two years ago, said the Depart­ment of En­ter­prise Ser­vices con­tin­ues to ex­hibit a “lack of ur­gency” when it comes to fill­ing the zoo’s top po­si­tion or op­er­a­tions or main­te­nance.

“The big take­away here is that noth­ing has changed. The di­rec­tion of the zoo has been all over the place and con­tin­ues to be all over the place. With­out a true change in di­rec­tion, an im­me­di­ate new di­rec­tor, you won’t see im­prove­ments or any ac­cred­i­ta­tion,” Ozawa said. “Right

now the bar is very low. Zoo op­er­a­tions are lack­ing.” Ozawa said the depart­ment has taken a long time to ad­ver­tise for Flem­ing’s re­place­ment. The city job post­ing of­fers a salary range of $102,192 to $170,100 an­nu­ally, and closes on June 5. That short re­cruit­ment pe­riod has led Ozawa to spec­u­late that the city may “al­ready know who they want or it could be a closed­door deal.”

Ozawa told the En­ter­prise Ser­vices Depart­ment it should con­sider in­clud­ing a third-party zoo di­rec­tor from an AZA-ac­cred­ited fa­cil­ity as part of the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process for a new di­rec­tor. He said he’s dis­ap­pointed that the depart­ment hasn’t lis­tened. “It’s not just a po­lit­i­cal ap­point­ment. If we get the right zoo di­rec­tor, they

should con­tinue work­ing at the city longer than the mayor. But if we con­tinue to do the ex­act same things we are do­ing, we can look for­ward to a re­volv­ing door,” he said.

Flem­ing’s de­par­ture fol­lowed that of Ken Red­man, Manuel Mollinedo, Jef­frey Ma­hon and Jeff Wilkin­son. In the past seven years, there have been five zoo di­rec­tors, five di­rec­tors of En­ter­prise Ser­vices and four ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tors of the Honolulu Zoo So­ci­ety, the zoo’s non­profit arm.

City funds have been bud­geted to be­gin plan­ning and de­sign­ing a two-story park­ing struc­ture that could pro­vide more fund­ing and bet­ter ac­cess to the zoo, but Ozawa said the idea hasn’t pro­ceeded. He said the zoo needs “a clear and bold change in di­rec­tion.”

The big take­away here is that noth­ing has changed. The di­rec­tion of the zoo has been all over the place and con­tin­ues to be all over the place. With­out a true change in di­rec­tion, an im­me­di­ate new di­rec­tor, you won’t see im­prove­ments or any ac­cred­i­ta­tion. Right now the bar is very low. Zoo op­er­a­tions are lack­ing.” Trevor Ozawa City coun­cil­man, who formed a zoo work­ing group nearly two years ago

PHO­TOS BY DEN­NIS ODA / DODA@STARAD­VER­TISER.COM

At top, a sign points to the Honolulu Zoo’s chim­panzee ex­hibit, closed since a chimp man­aged to es­cape last Sun­day, al­beit into a se­cured area. Above, Carie Steed and his 10-month-old daugh­ter, visi­tors from Wash­ing­ton state, en­joy the pen­guin ex­hibit. At left, visi­tors walk past the hippo ex­hibit, closed since 2014.

It’s been just over a year since the Honolulu Zoo lost its ac­cred­i­ta­tion, in part be­cause of on­go­ing fund­ing prob­lems.

PHO­TOS BY DEN­NIS ODA / DODA@STARAD­VER­TISER.COM

Vi­o­let, a fe­male orangutan, is kept sep­a­rate from Rusti, the male orangutan.

STAR-AD­VER­TISER

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