• History of Honolulu Zoo

Honolulu Zoo Beginnings

A rich history

Like other oceanic islands, Hawaiʻi has birds to thank, in large part, for the introduction and dispersal of seeds that grew to create our diverse island ecosystems. In response to this diversity, one common finch-like ancestor evolved into dozens of colorful honeycreepers especially suited for Hawaiʻi’s forests.

Originally, this site was mostly marshland covered with lagoons. The native Hawaiians developed the area into an ahupuaʻa – a wedge of land extending from the mountain to the sea – following the natural boundaries of the watershed. Each ahupuaʻa contained the resources the human community needed, from fish and salt, to fertile land for farming taro or sweet potato, to koa and other trees growing in upslope areas. In 1877, the marshes, ponds and lagoons in this ahupuaʻa were drained and became part of Queen Kapiʻolani Park. This was to honor Julia Kapiʻolani, Queen Consort of David Kalakaua, King of Hawaiʻi. It was then used to house their personal collection of exotic birds. The Zoo’s earliest history was that of a bird park.

So, as a nod to our past, and to acknowledge the important role birds have played in the development of Hawaiʻi’s unique ecosystems, the Honolulu Zoo features a wide variety of exotic birds.


King David Kalakaua transferred a 300 acre parcel of land from the Leahi Crown Holdings to the Kapiʻolani Park Association.


The City and County of Honolulu assumed administration of the park.


Construction for new aviaries to house rare and native exotic birds was completed. E.H. Lewis arrived to oversee project.


The Zoo’s design was reviewed and it took on its present shape in Kapiʻolani Park.


Zoo Hui was established as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization to support the Honolulu Zoo and its mission. The Zoo Hui has grown in size, involvement, and fundraising capacity and is now known as the Honolulu Zoological Society — responsible for the zoo’s education, volunteer, membership, conservation, and research programs, while also supporting facility improvements, zoo staff training, animal enrichment and other key areas.


Mari, an Asian Elephant, arrives as a gift arranged by Honolulu’s Indian Consul, Sheila Watamull, and India’s Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi.


Newly renovated Children’s Zoo was dedicated and opened.


Three year old Asian elephant, Vaigai, arrives.


The Zoo transferred from Parks and Recreation to newly created Department of Enterprise Services.


The Komodo Dragon Exhibit was completed.


New Keiki Zoo and Orangutan Exhibit was completed.


Manuel Mollinedo, former director of the San Francisco Zoo became the 8th Zoo Director.

Currently there are 73 employees (contract, part-time and full-time staff) working at the Zoo.


Jeffrey Wilkinson became the new Administrator for the Honolulu Zoo, replacing Dr. Jeff Mahon. Wilkinson, a Punahou graduate, returned to Honolulu after 20 years on the mainland, where he served in leadership positions with for-profit, nonprofit and educational institutions. In total, he has more than 20 years of experience as a top level executive.


Queen Kapiʻolani Park officially opened. The park also housed an annual horse race, which was held on King Kamehameha Day.


Ben Hollinger, Administrator of Parks & Recreation, began collecting animals for exhibition at Kapiʻolani Park.


The City approved a Master Plan for Kapiʻolani Park, designating 42 acres as the Honolulu Zoo. Paul Breese was appointed the first Zoo Director.


Jack Throp was appointed the second director of the Zoo and staff increased to twenty-eight employees.


Former Zoo Curator, Jerome Marr, takes over the Directorship of the Zoo.


The Zoo initiated and completed the design of a new Master Plan. Three biomes were planned: the African Savanna, the Tropical Forest and Islands.


Zoo completed the first phase of its second Master Plan, the African Savanna. Savanna Phase I opened in 1992 and Phase II opened in 1994.


Ken Redman, former curator from Sedgwick County Zoo, was selected 5th Director of the Honolulu Zoo.


The Gharial Exhibit was completed.


The new Vet Clinic was completed.


Stephen Walker, former Director of the Tulsa Oklahoma Zoo, was selected as the 6th Zoo Director.


Dr. Jeff Mahon was named Director of the Honolulu Zoo. His work experience includes various underwater facilities and aquariums around the world, the most recent was at the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center as the Director of Exhibits and Animal Husbandry.


Dr. Baird Fleming became the new Administrator for the Honolulu Zoo, replacing Jeffrey Wilkinson. Dr. Fleming was previously serving as the assistant zoo director.


Linda Santos was named as Zoo Director. Starting in 1986 as a trainee in the bird section, she has worked her entire career here at the Honolulu Zoo. Linda is the first female director in the history of the Honolulu Zoo.

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