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Honolulu Zoo

Honolulu Zoo
151 Kapahulu Avenue

About Honolulu Zoo

The Honolulu Zoo is the only zoo within a radius of 2,392 miles. It is also the only zoo in the United States that originated in a King’s grant of royal lands to the people. In 1876, King David Kalakaua, Monarch of Hawai‘i, made lands of the Leahi Crown Holdings available, "to the people of Hawai‘i."

The 300 acre parcel was primarily a marshland of old fish ponds, lagoons and islands. In 1877, it was officially opened as Queen Kapiolani Park. Appointed Park Association members developed the unpromising land with the help of royal subsidies to display the King’s private bird collection and to feature a horseracing track.

In 1914, the City of Honolulu assumed responsibility for the park and the first Park Director, Ben Hollinger, began collecting animals. He began with a monkey, bear and an African elephant "for the children of Hawai‘i." With a world-wide reputation for its Bird-of-paradise collection, in 1938 "Kapiolani Bird Park" grew to include three large aviary complexes. E.H. Lewis, noted ornithologist and superintendent of the bird park on Santa Catalina Island, Ca. was brought in to supervise the establishment of "modern" techniques for breeding and bird care.

In 1947, 42.5 acres within Kapiolani Park, was designated as the Honolulu Zoo. Paul Breese was hired as the first Zoo Director and worked to developed its first Master Plan In 1952, the zoo was converted to a "popular" layout showing animals in taxonomic groupings of bird, reptile and mammal exhibits. The first director was succeeded by Jack Throp, and the staff increased to twenty-eight. Jerome S. Marr became the third director in 1979.

The modern Honolulu Zoo originated in 1984, when a second Master Plan was developed for a Tropical Zoological Garden. It organized all exhibits into three tropical ecological zones: the African Savanna, Asian and American Tropical Forests, and Pacific Islands.

It was during this time that Don G. Davis became the fourth director with Ken Redman as his assistant. Zoo staffing grew to between 80-85 employees. In 1993, Ken Redman, was named to the Director's position. Until his retirement in 2008, he worked on updating the zoo’s Master Plan and re-formulating the mission statement:

The mission of the Honolulu Zoo is to inspire stewardship of our living world by providing meaningful experiences to our guests. The Zoo emphasizes Pacific tropical island ecosystems and our traditional values of malama (caring) and ho`okipa (hospitality).

Operated by the City and County of Honolulu, the Waikiki land on which it is located belongs to the Kapiolani Charitable trust by an agreement between the Republic of Hawai‘i and the Kapiolani Park Association. The aim of the agreement was for the now 220 acres of Kapiolani Park to remain a place of natural beauty and ornamental landscaping, and to ensure free, recreation grounds for the benefit of Hawai‘i’s residents and visitors.

Honolulu Zoo Beginnings

Like other oceanic islands, Hawaii 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 Hawaii’s forests.

Originally, this site was mostly marshland covered with lagoons The native Hawaiians developed the area into an ahupua`a, a wedge of land extending from the mountain to the sea, following the natural boundaries of the watershed. Each ahupua`a 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 ahupua`a were drained and became part of Queen Kapi`olani Park. This was to honor Julia Kapi`olani, Queen Consort of David Kalahaua, King of Hawai’i. 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 Hawaii’s unique ecosystems, the Honolulu Zoo features a wide variety of exotic birds.

Synopsis of the Honolulu Zoo's History


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


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


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


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


An African elephant, Daisy, was purchased and housed in the park. Daisy's career ended tragically in 1933 when for unexplained reasons, she killed her keeper, George Conradt. Daisy was destroyed by police marksmen.


Six Galapagos tortoises arrived from Panama, on loan from the New York Zoological Society.


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


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


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


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


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.


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


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


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


Honolulu Zoo receives its first accreditation by the American Zoo Association (AZA)


Newly renovated Children’s Zoo was dedicated and opened.


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.


Three year old Asian elephant, Vaigai, arrives.


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


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


The Gharial Exhibit was completed.


The Komodo Dragon Exhibit was completed.


The new Vet Clinic was completed.


New Keiki Zoo and Orangutan Exhibit completed.


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


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.

Honolulu Zoo Mission Statement

The mission of the Honolulu Zoo is to inspire the stewardship of our living world by providing meaningful experiences to our guests. The Zoo emphasizes Pacific Tropical ecosystems and our traditional values of malama (caring) and ho’okipa (hospitality).

Honolulu Zoological Society Mission Statement

To foster an appreciation of our living world by supporting and advocating environmental education, recreation, biological study and conservation activities at the Honolulu Zoo.

The Honolulu Zoological Society is a 501-C3, non-profit organization.

Honolulu Zoo is not affiliated with AmericanTowns Media


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