Honolulu Zoo exhibit to reopen amid lingering questions about hippo's death

EXCLUSIVE: Honolulu Zoo exhibit to reopen amid lingering questions about hippo's 2014 death
Published: Nov. 16, 2016 at 11:52 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 17, 2016 at 9:51 AM HST
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(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Two years after the death of one of its hippos, the Honolulu Zoo plans to reopen its hippo exhibit.

Baird Fleming, the zoo's administrator, said construction on the exhibit's new $3 million filtration system is now complete. The zoo's remaining hippo, Louise, will be moved to the facility within a month.

"It's a project we've been waiting for for a very long time. We are very happy to have it finally completed and I think it's going to add to the visitor experience here," Fleming said.

The new system can filter the 20,000-gallon hippo pond every 20 minutes, and can handle hundreds of pounds of waste daily.

"This is the first system like this on the island. It's a very, very complex system. People from other zoos that I've shared the specs with they go, 'Wow are you keeping great whites in there?'" Fleming said.

Work on the project stalled in 2014 after Rosey, the zoo's other hippo, died while construction was going on. Zoo officials said a necropsy by a mainland expert was inconclusive on whether noise from the construction caused Rosey's death.

"The role of environmental stress should be speculative but is certainly one possibility to consider," Robert Schmidt, a Carmichael, Calif.-based veterinary pathologist, wrote on Aug. 4, 2014.

But in later contract documents obtained by Hawaii News Now, zoo officials told city officials that all that construction may have played a role.

"The zoo staff felt that all the demolition and noise from the project … possibly caused the hippo's death," according to a January 2015 contract change order approval by the city Department of Design and Construction.

That change order document was written five months after the necropsy was completed.

"I think ... Rosey died because of the stress and the noise and the heat," said Cathy Goeggel, of Animal Rights Hawaii.

Local environmental activist Carroll Cox said zoo staffers and construction workers also told him back in 2014 that the building activity was taxing the hippos. "The construction workers raised concerns and witnessed the animals diminishing," he said.

"In the initial stages, they used to work a couple of hours, remove the animals out of that area that's affected by the noise ... and return them as it got quiet. But they abandoned that practice for some reason because they wanted to hurry up the job."

Zoo officials says they're committed to adding a new hippo to the exhibit, but have set no timetable.

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