WAIKIKI, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) – The Honolulu Zoo has won re-accreditation one year after it nearly lost that status from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
National accreditation is important because it means the Honolulu Zoo can rejoin more than 200 zoos and aquariums across the country that meet basic standards and it allows Honolulu to continue trading rare animals with other zoos on the mainland.
Sources told Hawaii News Now a three-person inspection team from the AZA reviewed conditions at Honolulu Zoo in January and the organization has agreed to restore the zoo's national accreditation, one year after putting it on hold because of a number of problems that have since been fixed. The zoo never lost its accreditation.
The biggest improvement noted by accreditation inspectors was the opening of the $12 million new elephant habitat late last year.
The zoo's two female elephants now enjoy a home that's about ten times larger than their old cramped quarters, where they spent nearly 20 years.
Zoo visitors have noticed the difference.
"It's a lot bigger than it was. It seems like they're not all stuck in one spot, like the other exhibit that they had, so it's really nice," said Teddie Malufau of Makiki, who was visiting the zoo with her husband Feso.
The zoo also spent about $1.2 million designing and installing new signs and maps, in response to AZA criticism that it was difficult for visitors to find their way around the zoo.
Terrance Holmes, a zoo visitor from Oakland, Calif., said the new signs are helpful in telling visitors how to get around the 32-acre zoo.
"Absolutely. They're very big, very large. You can see them from a couple of feet away all the way up to a couple of yards away," Holmes said after he consulted a map and signs outside the zoo's savannah exhibit.
"It looks like they put more in so you know where to go, and it's easier to find," Malufau said.
The zoo has filled several key vacancies in the past year, reducing staff openings that the AZA raised questions about in its inspection in early 2011.
Just a few weeks ago, the zoo hired a second veterinarian, a position that had been vacant for several years, according to zoo employees.
A couple of months ago, the zoo also hired a reptile curator. And within the last month, the zoo hired a registrar to keep records on the zoo's 840 creatures from more than 200 species. Zoo employees said that position had been vacant since June, when the last registrar retired.
Zoo Director Manuel Mollinedo was traveling on the mainland on business Sunday and not available for comment. Zoo employees credit Mollinedo, who was hired at the end of 2010, with making improvements at the zoo.
Employees also said former city Enterprise Services Director Sidney Quintal pushed through many improvements before he retired from the city and moved out of the state last summer.
City officials expect to announce the re-accreditation later this month. Then in four more years, the Honolulu Zoo will face accreditation inspections again.