Honolulu Zoo has a new director: Dr. Baird Fleming.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced the appointment Tuesday during his State of the City address.
Fleming is no stranger to the zoo. He previously served as the assistant zoo director and has been with the zoo for nearly three years.
Fleming says his top priority is to care for the animals, but another major focus is to maintain accreditation with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
“It’s making sure that we do meet the standards, that we are a top-notch zoo, that we are in that top 10 percent,” he said. “We’ve kind of fallen behind on a few things, we have a little deferred maintenance here and there, but we’re addressing it and we’re basically going at a breakneck speed.
“Unfortunately, when you come by the zoo nowadays, we do have some exhibits that are closed, but that’s because we’re renovating them. We’re making them better,” he added.
The zoo has already been “tabled” twice, which means the facility was one step away from losing accreditation.
“If you’re kind of borderline, then they’ll table you, and say ‘You know what? You’re not quite there. We need you to really convince us that you’re going to maintain an absolutely spectacular zoo that has things like education conservation, guest experience, animal welfare, all at the heart of what you’re doing,” Fleming explained.
Fleming says he’s passionate about working for the animals, as are all the other workers, and that’s what keeps them coming back.
“It’s the only zoo I’ve ever worked at where you can have keepers that have been keepers for 25 years and they still love coming to work, they still put their heart and soul into it every day,” Fleming said. “We don’t take days off. When we’re sitting there at home because we’re not supposed to go to work that day, we’re thinking gosh, I hope so-and-so is doing well. I hope the hippos are doing well or I hope my elephants are doing well. It’s that kind of passion that we have a lot of at the zoo.”
Fleming’s appointment comes weeks after Jeffrey Wilkinson announced his resignation as zoo director.
He was the fourth director in the past five years.