Mayor Carlisle names new Honolulu Zoo director

Manuel Mollinedo
Manuel Mollinedo
Honolulu Zoo
Honolulu Zoo
Honolulu Zoo exhibit
Honolulu Zoo exhibit

By Teri Okita – bio | email

HONLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The first challenge will be to get the Honolulu Zoo ready for inspection by the American Association for Zoos and Aquariums. A team will be here in three weeks to decide whether or not to renew the zoo's accreditation, which among other things, often leads to more financial support.

But its not the first, or biggest challenge that the director has had.

Honolulu's new zoo director, Manuel Mollinedo, has big plans in store by bringing animals and tourists together.

"We need to come up with a better way of promoting the zoo and reaching out to hotels and coming up with packages so that visitors, especially visitors with children, realize that we have a beautiful zoo here and we should come out and participate," Mollinedo said.

Mollinedo comes to Hawaii with an extensive background as director, first at the Los Angeles Zoo, then at San Francisco Zoo. It was in San Francisco, on Mollinedo's watch during Christmas 2008, that a tiger escaped from its pen and killed a 17-year-old boy.

There were allegations that the tiger's enclosure was lower than the recommended industry standards. The San Francisco Chronicle went on to report high employee turnover and low morale within the ranks at the zoo. Mollinedo resigned six months after the tiger attack.

Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle, the director of enterprise services, which oversees the city zoo and an independent panel, took the tiger incident and the other issues into consideration during their search for a new director. They stand by the decision to hire Mollinedo and the independent panel's vetting process.

"That was not a very easy panel to please. And I was told by Manuel that they put him through a severe grilling and he came out absolutely unequivocally as the best choice," Carlisle said.

The new director also talked about some of the issues with the new elephant exhibit.

Animal rights advocates have complained the zoo's elephant enclosure and the new habitat being built is too cramped and that Indian elephants Mari and Vaigai should be sent to a wildlife sanctuary. Mollinedo says he respects their opinion, even if they are at odds with the zoo's.

"If we weren't criticized, we would probably still have this exhibit in 10 years. Because of the criticism you get, it makes us become better professionals," Mollinedo said.

Criticism, tight budgets, visitor numbers, and animal welfare are all challenges facing the new director.

Mayor Carlisle says that during Mollinedo's tenure at the San Francisco Zoo, visitor attendance increased to its highest level in 25 years and that the zoo's financial condition greatly improved. We also reached out to the Honolulu Zoological Society for comment. They say they have great faith in the vetting process and are in full support of the new zoo director.

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