Honolulu Zoo director announces resignation to take mainland job

Honolulu Zoo director Baird Fleming
Honolulu Zoo director Baird Fleming

The city announced Friday that Honolulu Zoo director Baird Fleming has resigned to accept a job on the mainland.

The search now begins for a sixth zoo director in the past seven years.

Fleming was appointed to the position by Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell back in late February 2015. He had previously served as the assistant zoo director.

“To be honest, there’s always opportunity when there’s change, so we take an optimistic look and say, ‘Where can we go next?'” said David Earles, Honolulu Zoo Society. “Dr. Fleming and I and the society have worked on some really strong initiatives toward accreditation, and hopefully with the new director, when he comes on board, that will just catapult us that much further.”

Dept. of Enterprise Services Director Guy Kaulukukui said that Bill Balfour has been assigned to be temporary administrator. Balfour was the director of Parks and Recreation at a time when the zoo was under that department’s jurisdiction.

Linda Santos remains assistant zoo director and has more than 30 years of experience in animal care and welfare at the zoo.

“I think it’s really hard as someone who comes to the zoo often, sometimes when we come, it looks as if the zoo is a little scattered sometimes with the projects that they have. I think that’s probably a reflection with the lack of stability of leadership,” said zoo goer Kamuela Kimokeo. “So anytime there’s not a real stable leader, it’s hard for patrons of the zoo or those who attend the zoo to see any sort of vision as to where they’re going and what they see, what improvements they see that could be made in the future.”

“We were on target to seek reaccreditation in 2018 or 2019. I believe we can still stay on track. The foundation is there,” said Guy Kaulukukui, Department of Enterprise Services director. “I think the number-one thing (people) need to know is there is no way it will impact operations of the zoo, and first and foremost, there’s no impact on the animal welfare at the zoo.”

This comes after a majority of Hawaii voters approved a charter amendment that establishes a fund for the zoo. A portion of property tax revenues will be used to help operate, repair and make improvements at the zoo.

The fund will go into effect on July 1, 2017.

In a statement released later by City Council Chair Ernie Martin, it read:

Mahalo to Dr. Fleming for his service. We wish him and his family well in all their future endeavors. The Honolulu Zoo is one of the city’s premier attractions for visitors and local families and we have a lot of work to do to restore the facility and achieve reaccreditation. The charter amendment and the companion legislation I introduced that was adopted by voters ensures that the next administrator will have a reliable source of revenue to do what must be done.

Honolulu City Councilman Trevor Ozawa released the following statement:

“I want to thank Director Fleming for his service to the City and County of Honolulu. He deserves praise for his service to the city and his willingness to work collaboratively with the Honolulu City Council and all stakeholders to seek reaccreditation of the Honolulu Zoo. I extend my gratitude for Director Fleming’s service.

As the Councilmember representing Council District 4 which includes the Honolulu Zoo, I am deeply committed to ensuring that the zoo has a bright future ahead. From promoting public-private partnerships, allowing limited sponsorship of Honolulu Zoo exhibits or facilities, I continue to work diligently on addressing the issues at the zoo.

The Council has worked diligently and collaboratively with Director Fleming, the city administration, and other stakeholders to address shortcomings as highlighted and outlined in the zoo’s loss of reaccreditation. In light of news of Director Fleming’s departure, the voters affirmed via a charter amendment the need for a reliable source of funding for the Zoo to help regain its accreditation.

Although the City and County of Honolulu will be seeking a sixth director in just the past seven years, our residents and visitors should be reassured that the Council is committed to ensuring that the zoo has the necessary funding and resources to successfully reapply for reaccreditation in the coming years.

I look forward to the search for a new director. I hope we’ll find a director that has experience in both animal care and operational management to ensure the well-being of our animals while successfully leading the zoo’s efforts in applying for reaccreditation. I look forward to working with the administration and the new director to successfully obtain reaccreditation for our zoo.”

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