Exploring the Honolulu Zoo

The Beginnings of the Honolulu Zoo

Nestled within the 300 acres that comprise Queen Kapi’olani Park, the Honolulu Zoo is the only zoo in the United States to have been created by grants made by a sovereign monarch. In 1876, King Kalakaua made royal lands available to establish a public park for the people in his kingdom. Located near the slopes of Leahi, the land was characterized by marshes, lagoons and ponds. In an effort to beautify the land and to support the king’s project, two hundred subscribers formed the Kapi’olani  Park Association. Soon, the park was opened and named in honor of the king’s wife, Queen Kapi’olani.

Though the park was available to the public, King Kalakaua used the land to house his personal collection of horses and exotic birds. More exotic animals came to the park over the years as it hosted various carnivals and fairs, including the Kamehameha Day celebrations. It wasn’t until 1896 that the City & County of Honolulu assumed control of the park.

The Formation of the Honolulu Zoo

In 1914, Ben Hollinger was appointed as the new Administrator of Parks and Recreation by the City & Council of Honolulu. As such, Queen Kapi’olani Park came under his jurisdiction. Thanks to Hollinger’s fascination with animals, the park soon became the home to a sun bear, a monkey and several lion clubs. Two years after Hollinger’s new appointment, an African elephant named Daisy joined the park after Hollinger beseeched the City & Council of Honolulu to purchase the animal. It was at this time that the space officially became a zoo, with Daisy entertaining visitors until 1933.

The Struggles and the Revival of the Honolulu Zoo

During the Great Depression, the Honolulu Zoo experienced a great deal of financial difficulty. At one point, the zoo was almost shut down due to a lack of finances. Despite these hardships, the zoo managed to expand on November of 1949 with the acquisition of an elephant, sea lions, a Bactrian camel, spider monkeys, a tortoise and several bird species.

In 1974, the zoo received a donation of an elephant, a camel, deer and chimpanzees. After receiving the new additions, the City & County of Honolulu approved a master plan to determine the boundaries of the 42-acre plot that houses the zoo. The facility designs were influenced by those found in the exhibits at the San Diego Zoo. Later, the exhibits were again redesigned to feature more natural settings for the animals.

Over the years, the zoo also expanded to include a great deal of art. Among these is the metal, fiberglass and coral sculpture known as Hawaiian Porpoises and the bronze sculpture entitled Elephant’s Child. Other works included the metal sculptures of Giraffe, Ostrich, Whooping Cranes and Maasai Tribesman.

Today, the zoo continues to be administered by the City & Council of Honolulu through the Department of Enterprise Services with more than 600,000 people visit the zoo each year. The Honolulu Zoo Society provides the zoo’s program services.

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