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Zoo exhibits, signs getting a new look

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    FL Morris / The Honolulu Zoo recently completed a $3 million face lift of its entrance and has spent $10 million on improvements since 2005.

The Honolulu Zoo is working on a new elephant enclosure, better signage and filling staff vacancies to address deficiencies identified by a national accreditation team, city officials said yesterday.

Officials said they were disappointed that the Association of Zoos and Aquariums deferred reaccreditation after a three-day inspection in January, but said they are confident the zoo will be reaccredited when the AZA returns in nine months.

"We felt that we worked very hard to meet the accreditation standards that were set from the last review that we had. Unfortunately, we came up a little short," said Sidney Quintal, director of the city Department of Enterprise Services, which administers the zoo.

The zoo is developing a comprehensive compliance plan after the AZA notified zoo Director Manuel Mollinedo last week that accreditation was deferred for a year. During the inspection in January, inspectors raised concerns that include staff vacancies, upgrades to exhibits and lack of directional signage and educational graphics.

Zoo officials have the next nine months to address the deficiencies until inspectors return to determine whether progress was made. Mollinedo said projects will be put out to bid more quickly to ensure the zoo meets AZA standards.

During a news conference in front of the zoo yesterday, Quintal said it has been a struggle to obtain funding due to the city’s budget pinch. "It’s just the sign of the times," he said. "Without the proper funding and the challenges we’re now facing, it’s difficult to justify an institutional, educational need when we have core services that are also in trouble."

The city has spent $10 million since 2005 on zoo improvements such as the $3 million face lift of its entrance.

Quintal said inspectors were disappointed to see the zoo’s two female elephants, Mari and Vaigai, in its existing facility. The final phase for a new elephant enclosure, estimated at $6.35 million, is slated to be completed by the end of the year. The new facility will be 1.4 acres (compared with the current 6,000 square feet) and will include two 55,000-gallon ponds.

Understaffing of nearly 10 percent was also raised. Officials also said inspectors noted a lack of educational graphics and signage at some exhibits as well as exterior directional signage to direct visitor foot traffic to the zoo. Nearly $1.2 million is allocated for graphics and signage at the zoo as well as directional signage on Kapahulu and Kalakaua avenues. "We’re working as hard as we can to get up to speed,"Quintal said.

AZA spokesman Steve Feldman said standards are revised regularly, which can be difficult for institutions. "The standards are always rising,"Feldman said. "It’s incumbent for each institution to stay up on those standards so they don’t have a giant hurdle to overcome."

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