The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) has denied the city's application for re-accreditation of Honolulu Zoo.
The decision came after a panel of AZA executive members met with zoo director Dr. Baird Fleming, assistant zoo director Linda Santos, and managing director Roy Amemiya this Monday in Omaha, Neb.
That means once the official letter is delivered, for the first time ever, the zoo will not have accreditation.
The association cited concerns about consistent funding, an issue that was highlighted in previous inspections, and stressed the decision had nothing to do with care of the animals.
"The accreditation commission has some concerns and the result was a denial, but as far as the animal care is concerned, we are very satisfied with that," said Rob Vernon, AZA senior vice president of external affairs.
"Many of their concerns that they listed when they did the inspection have been corrected. What they do see, however, is a pattern in Honolulu of not just one year or two years, but more than a decade of they accredited us and then our repair and maintenance falls back and our funding doesn't keep up with what it needs to be," Amemiya explained.
"They want to make sure that we realize that this is a marathon, not a sprint."
"We do have about a million more for the budget next year, but more than that, we need to look at the business plan for the zoo," Amemiya added.
Late last year, a new law was passed to allow limited sponsorships of zoo exhibits and facilities. However, a program has yet to be established.
"Once we get the rules in order and we get the administrative side all set, it's going to be a really great thing," said Honolulu City Councilman Trevor Ozawa. "People who want to donate, corporations who want to donate, they want to help the zoo because honestly, they want to be good corporate citizens or good individual citizens and they also want to help others that have less."
"Many zoos around the nation have public and private partnerships where there's a consistent revenue stream not only from a government entity, but also from the private sector," said Honolulu City Councilwoman Kymberly Pine.
In the meantime, a loss of accreditation could potentially lead to a loss in animals. The zoo currently has about 90 animals on loan.
"It's only the animals that are on loan from other institutions, in particular, perhaps other AZA institutions might be at risk," said Honolulu's Director of Enterprise Services Guy Kaulukukui. "It is a might. It's not a lock. It's not a guarantee, and there's certainly no animal welfare reason that any zoo should ask for us to return a loaned animal."
"AZA member affiliates exchange animals, and they're doing so more and more because for the efforts toward conservation and trying to propagate more of a certain species, and so if they have a sloth and we have a sloth and they have a female, we'll exchange," Amemiya said. "That program may go away at some point in time. We understand that there is a window of time that will be stayed."
The AZA said it's pleased with the direction of the zoo, including the work done on deferred maintenance and care of animals. It encouraged the city to reapply for accreditation once the funding situation is addressed by the city and community partners. There is a one-year waiting period before Honolulu can reapply.
Honolulu Zoo Society executive director Jennifer Barrett released the following statement in response:
"Clearly, we are disappointed by the Association of Zoos and Aquarium's decision. We commend the work of Zoo Director Dr. Baird Fleming and his staff to meet the standards of accreditation in animal care and management, public education, research and conservation. Honolulu Zoo has been a vital part of the community for over 100 years, providing both kama'aina and visitors opportunities to interact with its animal residents and learn the importance of conservation. We want to ensure it will be around for at least a hundred more and we will continue to support the City's efforts for re-accreditation."
With or without accreditation, Fleming said his staff will continue to apply all AZA standards and best practices going forward.
"The AZA accreditation today is not the same as it was 15 years ago," Amemiya said. "Zoos have moved on. They've become a hub for education and conservation, and we are lagging a little bit and we're trying to catch up. Those are some of the kinds of things we need to make sure we do well and continue to do. That's the lesson for all of us."