Longtime employee promoted to director of Honolulu Zoo

After nearly a year-long search, the Honolulu Zoo has a new director.

Linda Santos, who has been with the zoo for 30 years, will now take the helm as the zoo’s sixth director in the last seven years.

She takes on a history of challenges. Just last year, the zoo lost its accreditation over funding concerns.

So what’s next for the zoo? We’re told so much time passed before naming a new director because officials wanted to find someone who was committed for the long run.

Santos was most recently the assistant director and says her top goals are getting the zoo reaccredited and getting more people to visit each year.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell says they conducted a cross-country search, but the best candidate for the job was at the zoo all along.

“I believe in Linda. We found someone who is rooted in this community, rooted right here in the soil of this zoo,” he said.

“There’s a lot of pressure,” Santos admitted. “These are very big shoes to fill, and you know, I feel confident with the team I have. We’ll fill those shoes.”

One of the first things to tackle on her to-do list is attendance. In 2012, there were more than 667,000 visitors, but that number has dropped by more than 100,000 over the last five years.

“We got the twilight tours back going, which has always been popular. We always have the kid camps, which are full,” Santos said. “We want to do more guest experiences, get our staff out there and do more things for the public.”

The zoo also plans to apply for reaccreditation by 2019.

Santos is hopeful last year’s voter-approved charter amendment will address concerns from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The amendment established a fund using a portion of property taxes for maintenance, repairs, and improvements at the zoo.

“We have a stable, new director of the zoo. We have a stable funding source, and I hope the troubles of the past are truly behind us,” she said.

Santos also says the chimpanzee exhibit is set to reopen in the next few weeks after one of the chimps got out earlier this year.

The reptile and hippo exhibits are also moving along, but there’s no date yet on when they’ll reopen to the public.

“When we take an exhibit down, we look at everything, and we want to make sure before we put the animal back on exhibit that we’ve completed everything, any kind of renovation, so that it’s not closed down again shortly after,” Santos said.

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