Changes Abound as Honolulu's Zoo Celebrates 50th Year

By Tony Bartlett

Reed Travel Features

HONOLULU -- Honolulu Zoo celebrated its 50th anniversary in August. The facility, on 43 acres tucked into one corner of Waikiki's Kapiolani Park, dates to 1914. However, according to zoo director Ken Redman, until 1947 it was really a bird park with an elephant. That year, the City and County of Honolulu gave the facility the official designation of zoo. The first full-time director came aboard, and the facility embarked on expansion.

Those who have not visited in a year or two will see changes, most noticeably in landscaping. New plantings have sprouted along walkways and in former scrub or lawn areas. "We're trying to integrate animals, birds, plants and culture to show they're interconnected," said Redman. Moving in this direction, the zoo hired a horticulturist last year. Its weekly schedule of free events now includes botanical tours, native bird lectures and such Hawaiian activities as games and lei making.

An area of exclusively endemic Hawaiian plants was created and adjoins the fenced-in flock of nenes, the endemic Hawaiian goose and state bird. A lone loulu palm (Hawaii's only native palm -- the Polynesian voyagers brought the coconuts) has been joined by young loulu and other flora found only in Hawaii, mostly ground cover, shrubs, and ferns. New signage is everywhere. "What's Happening Here?" is printed on one sign by a new garden, explaining that it "will help supplement the diet of our reptiles" and noting that it is pesticide-free and has zoo-created compost.

Another project is a new Asian rain forest exhibit, about to open. A row of separate aviary cages, built in 1938 and previously housing birds, is being restored and modified into one long facility housing Asian rain forest birds and reptiles. Previous nonappropriate occupants, such as penguins, will live elsewhere.

The zoo has been making these improvements out of its operating budget. Redman praised the Outrigger and Aston hotel chains for their support. Outrigger underwrote the cost of 300 signs, and Aston financied expanded summer activities program. Both had summer programs providing Waikiki guests with free zoo admission.

The zoo's last major capital improvement project was completed three years ago -- the African Savanna, created over several years at a cost of $17 million. The 12-acre exhibit is designed to resemble the grasslands of Africa. It brought Honolulu Zoo into the mainstream, the worldwide trend of displaying animals in their natural habitat. Notable is a walk-in African aviary featuring 25 bird species and a chimp enclosure covering two-thirds of an acre. Visitors wander through pathways with man-made rock formations, peer through glass at lions and crocodiles and view open spaces of giraffe and zebra.

The zoo is open 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily, with admittance until 4:30 a.m. For further information, call the zoo at (808) 971-7171.

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