Last year, I took my three year-old son to the Honolulu Zoo. We really enjoyed the play area and the Keiki Zoo. But when I saw the larger animals, I felt sad. The elephants plodded listlessly, and the tigers paced restlessly. They needed room to run and hunt.
I realized that we need to balance our children’s education and our desire to encourage respect for nature with the animals’ lifestyles and the expense of running a zoo. In 2009, the Honolulu Zoo earned $1.9 million (Honolulu Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, FY2009) but cost almost $5.3 million to operate (Honolulu Operating Budget, FY2009).
So, thinking about the animals and Hawaii’s budget problems, I have a radical suggestion: close the African Savanna and, using the money that was budgeted for its maintenance, redesign a hands-on, personal zoo that focuses on Hawaii. There would be four main areas:
Bird Sanctuary. When you first walk into the zoo, it’s all about the birds – each in their own cages. We could create a walk-through bird sanctuary, where the birds can fly all around us (with netting and a plexi-glass ceiling), like the old Paradise Park or the walk-through aquarium that used to be at DFS Galleria Waikiki.
Hawaiian Ahupua’a. We could build an educational area with native animals and plants, and show how the Hawaiians used them for food, shelter, clothing, and implements. We could move some of the reptiles and turtles here. This would be unique – no other zoo teaches about Hawaiian culture.
Keiki Zoo. We already have a fantastic Keiki Zoo where you can touch the animals, with a crawl-through aquarium, kid-sized hamster tunnel, and goat pen. Right outside, there’s a great playground and open lawn. We could move the smaller monkeys here.
American Farm. Let’s re-open the iconic red barn and show people about country life, including information about farm animals and our own Hawaiian paniolo.
If there is additional space, we could relocate the Waikiki Public Library (to save money on rent), create a public art gallery (we already have Art on the Zoo Fence), add a public garden, or build a small outdoor stage (it could also be used for private events).
We shouldn’t try to compete with larger zoos that have more land, more funding, and more visitors. We need a zoo that reflects Hawaii. What do you think?