AZA: Zoo accreditation denied to ‘provide sufficient time’ for improvement

Honolulu Zoo

A lack of consistent funding was the main reason for the Honolulu Zoo to lose its accreditation, according to the official letter the city received Thursday, March 31, from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

The letter has been shared with zoo staff, the Honolulu Zoo Society and City Council members.

In the letter, Chuck Wikenhauser, chair of the association’s accreditation committee, states animals at the zoo are being “well cared for by staff” and the organization is encouraged by the “dedicated leadership” and strategic plan put forth by zoo director Baird Fleming.

Click here to read the letter from the AZA.

However, the letter read in part that “the lack of sustained leadership at the Honolulu Zoo, as evidenced by a turnover of five directors in five years, and insufficient financial support by the City/County and Honolulu Zoo Society, have resulted in three recurring five-year AZA accreditation cycles of underachievement.”

It also added that “the Mayor’s proposed FY 2017 budget includes increased support for both Zoo Operations and Capital Planning, but has yet to be adopted by the City Council. You also indicated that contract renegotiations with the Honolulu Zoo Society emphasizing fundraising and outlining each organization’s area of responsibility, authority, and obligation, is ongoing.”

Honolulu Zoo Society contribution
Cash support: $542,895
Additional support: $930,136

Fleming says zoo staff has been working hard to show the AZA it deserves to get it back: “They’re saying, ‘You know what guys, what you’re doing is perfect. You’re on the right track.'”

According to the city, its revenue has been down from a high of $5.1 million in 2013 to around $4.8 million this past year. The city also said projections are looking up for the next couple of years, projecting as much as $5.5 million in revenue in 2017.

Fleming will also continue to work with the Honolulu Zoo Society, the zoo’s support organization, which provided over a million dollars last year, including everything from exhibit repairs to education programs.

“They have agreed to focus their efforts on that yes, and I think that in the new cooperative agreement that they put together with us, it delineates some things like percentages of membership that are going to be going to the zoo,” Fleming said.

Ultimately, the zoo wants to be known for its treatment of animals and conservation efforts. Both Fleming and the AZA agree it’s not an issue. “They love what we’re doing with our animals. They love the welfare, the husbandry, the conservation that we’re really pushing. That’s exactly what they want to see,” Fleming said.

As far as what will change for people taking their families to the zoo, Fleming says not to worry, “literally nothing (will change). That’s the great thing. That’s a commitment from the city. That’s what AZA wants to see too.”

The team that traveled to Omaha for the accreditation process consisted of Fleming, assistant zoo director Linda Santos, and city managing director Roy Amemiya Jr.

The earliest the zoo can reapply for accreditation is March 1, 2017.

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