The Honolulu Zoo announced today it has been accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ independent Accreditation Commission after years of effort.
The zoo, which is run by the city’s Department Enterprise Services, has sought accreditation since 2016, when its accreditation was dropped. Honolulu Zoo officials had submitted an application in September, with hopes of winning approval four years later.
The Honolulu Zoo is currently closed, along with city parks, due to the coronavirus pandemic, and it remains unknown when it will reopen again.
“AZA accreditation signifies Honolulu Zoo’s active role in protecting our world’s wild animals and wild places while providing exceptional animal care and meaningful guest experiences,” said AZA President and CEO Dan Ashe in a news release. “The Honolulu Zoo is truly a leader in the zoological profession, and I am proud to have them among our members.”
To be accredited, the zoo underwent a thorough review to ensure it met AZA’s standards in categories which include animal care and welfare, veterinary programs, conservation, education, and safety.
AZA requires zoos and aquariums to successfully complete a rigorous accreditation process every five years in order to be members of the association, considered a mark of recognition by a group of animal and conservation experts.
The accreditation also gives zoos access to breeding programs, resources, and conferences.
“I would like to recognize the hard work of the Honolulu Zoo staff, along with the leadership and staff of the numerous agencies of the City and County of Honolulu, and our two support organizations, the Honolulu Zoo Society and Service System Associates,” said Honolulu Zoo director Linda Santos in a statement. “Everyone’s coordinated efforts were critical in achieving AZA accreditation and I am very proud of their teamwork. We look forward to working closely with the AZA, once again, to expand our role in conservation efforts.”
Santos was promoted from within the zoo’s ranks, and became its director in September 2017 after numerous others had come and gone. The zoo was accredited under former Honolulu Zoo director Manuel Mollinedo, who resigned in 2013.
The zoo had tried to keep its accreditation but lost it in 2016. In November 2016, Oahu residents gave the zoo a boost by voting to adopt an amendment to the City Charter requiring 0.5% of annual property tax revenues goes to a special zoo fund.
“I think having the stable funding made a huge difference, and building a relationship with the city, the governance and the zoological society, which was a concern,” said Santos, who oversees a staff of about 70. “We work in sync together now and it’s really a good team effort. We also got ahead of the game with our deferred maintenance, so we are in a good place moving forward.”
The accreditation process includes a detailed application and a meticulous on-site inspection by a team of trained zoo and aquarium professionals, which took place in January.
The team evaluates everything from animal care and welfare to keeper training, safety, educational programs, conservation efforts, veterinary programs, financial stability and visitor services. Top officials are also interviewed at a formal hearing by the commission.
The AZA inspection team mentioned that the Honolulu Zoo “has impressive and impactful conservation programs” and took note of the new Ectotherm Complex as a model for other zoos. In addition, the team said the Honolulu Zoo Society’s “Niele episodes” on video were inventive, educational and very well presented.
“I’m so proud knowing that the hard work and love the Honolulu Zoo staff has for their animals is being recognized and certified on an international level,” said Mayor Kirk Caldwell in a statement. “It’s because of their efforts under the leadership of Director Santos these past 4 years, and assisted by the Department of Enterprise Services Deputy Director Tracy Kubota, that they regained their accreditation. The Honolulu Zoo is one of the gems of our island of Oahu, and this puts us among the best of the best, not just in our country, but around the world.”
Although the zoo remains closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Santos said staff are still working daily.
“We don’t know how long we’ll be closed to the public but our staff is still here working and keeping up with not just the grounds, but animal welfare,” said Santos. “We still have to feed, clean, medicate, do exams. We’re taking it day by day. Like everyone else we don’t know what to expect as this evolves. We modify what we need to do daily, and are also planning for when we reopen.”