Honolulu Zoo director quits; 4th in 5 years

Honolulu Zoo director quits; 4th in 5 years
Published: Jan. 5, 2015 at 1:51 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 5, 2015 at 9:34 PM HST
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Jeffrey Wilkinson took over as Honolulu Zoo director on April 1. The city says it hired him in part because of his strong management and marketing experience. But just nine months into the job, Wilkinson has quit.

"I've made the difficult decision to resign my position at the Zoo and move back to California to care for my parents," Wilkinson said In an email to zoo staff.

"In an unfortunate turn of events, he was home for the holidays, and he decided that he needed to be caregiver to his parents full-time," City Managing Director Roy Amemiya said.

Wilkinson's resignation puts the zoo in a familiar position -- without a director. It has gone through four of them in the past five years.

"Clearly, we've had some turnover in that position," Amemiya said. "We will be reviewing the position description to make sure that whoever gets hired next is the right person for the job."

The Honolulu Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. but that accreditation ends in March of 2016. Amemiya said that adds incentive to finding the next director.

"The urgency is that we have been working on our accreditation which we believe we'll need to get done by the end of this calendar year," he said.

Zoo sources tell Hawaii News Now the AZA will be hard pressed to accredit the zoo with the appearance of an unstable leadership. Two of the recent directors, including Wilkinson, came to the job with no prior zoo experience.

During the search period, assistant zoo director Dr. Baird Fleming will serve as acting director.

"He is a veterinarian. He comes with a lot of zoo experience. He's been with us since 2007," Amemiya said. "Certainly, our immediate plans is to make sure that our animals are well-cared for."

Wilkinson told his staff he was proud to have been part of the team.

"During my short time here, I hope we've planted some seeds that will take root and one day bring more resources to the Zoo," he said.

The zoo director's annual salary ranges from about $93,000 to $154,000. The director oversees a staff of about 80 full-time employees plus zoo volunteers.

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