WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) - The director of the Honolulu Zoo is resigning after two years on the job.
Director Manuel Mollinedo tells Hawaii News Now he has decided to leave for personal reasons after accomplishing the goals he had set for the zoo. His final day will be March 1.
Mollinedo started the job in December 2010, shortly before the zoo's accreditation was put on hold.
"I think I was here a month-and-a-half when the accreditation inspectors came out, and we didn't pass accreditation at that point. We were actually put on probation," said Mollinedo.
One of the major problems was the cramped quarters for the zoo's two female elephants. On Mollinedo's watch, the zoo opened a new, $12 million habitat for the animals.
The zoo also unveiled a new entrance, and fixed other problems that hindered accreditation, including putting in new signs and maps for visitors. Accreditation was fully renewed in April 2012.
While he's proud of those accomplishments, Mollinedo said it was time to hand the zoo over to someone new for a variety of reasons, including personal ones.
"I still have a home on the mainland," he said. "My wife still lives over there. I think it's time to go."
Mollinedo was executive director and president of the San Francisco Zoological Society from 2004 to 2008. He also had been director of the Los Angeles Zoo.
In the short term, the 67-year-old Mollinedo said he plans to return to California and perhaps do some teaching and consulting work. But he and his wife would like return to the islands for good. "She loves Hawaii, I love Hawaii. We're gonna seriously look at maybe, in the coming year, to look very closely at the Kona - Waimea area because I'd really like to settle down here," he said.
Even though he's departing, Mollinedo said the zoo has the potential of becoming a great zoo. It attracted approximately 669,000 visitors last year, with the number split about evenly between local residents and visitors. He'd like to increase attendance by attracting more tourists.
"You get six million visitors coming over to this island to visit. Most hotel rooms are turning over every four to five days. We need to try to attract more of those visitors to come over here," said Mollinedo.
He'd also take advantage of Hawaii's location in the Pacific and establish relationships with other countries in the area to get new animals. "One of the generals that's assigned here is a general from Australia," he said. "That would be a perfect tie-in to working with the Australian government to see about the possibility of getting koalas or wallabies for our zoo."
"I want to say mahalo to Manuel Mollinedo for his two years of service running one of our city's premiere attractions, the Honolulu Zoo," Mayor Kirk Caldwell said. "Manuel was able to get the zoo accredited by the national Association of Zoos and Aquariums and he led the renovations of the zoo entrance and the new elephant exhibit. Under his watch, the zoo collected a record amount in admission fees which helped the city reduce the cost to taxpayers."
Caldwell said he's opening up a nationwide search for Mollinedo's replacement, but his preference would be to hire someone from Hawaii.
"At this point in my life, at this point in my career, you have to know when to quit," said Mollinedo. "And I think I'm leaving on a high note."
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