The Honolulu Zoo opened a new salamander habitat, just one of several exhibits expected to open this year. Efforts are underway to not only add more animals, but also bring in more visitors.

There are morning crowds once again outside the Honolulu Zoo, as tourists and residents line up to see the Waikiki attraction.

"It's an interesting place for the young kids who get a chance to see animals they wouldn't normally see," said Pearlridge resident Glenn Tamagoshi.

Along with the number of visitors going up, so have admission prices. It now costs even more to see the monkeys, elephants and tigers.

"I like the tiger. I like to see the tiger," exclaimed young visitor Mace Matsumoto.

Tigers are some of the animals still surrounded by fences or cages. But that could change in the future. 

"The old zoo is chain link and cages. We want to get away from that and create viewing portals with glass or mesh," said Honolulu Zoo Director Linda Santos.

"Any change they make to open up the space is great, so we can see the animals in their natural environment," stated Tamagoshi.

Santos said some of the increase in admission prices will go toward new viewer friendly exhibits like their aviary, where people walk into the habitat with birds.

"I would like to see more interactions with the animals and guests, to see, touch and hold. If they get to interact with them, they will build relationships and not just see something behind the glass," said Kaneohe resident Mili Ka'a.

New exhibits can bring in more visitors. Which is important as attendance numbers had dropped over the past five years, before the zoo finally reversed the trend. 

"Our attendance is going up. But the reason it dropped, was because we had a lot of deferred maintenance and we took a lot of exhibits offline," stated Santos.

Like the hippopotamus exhibit, which has been closed for the past three and a half years, because of a $3 million renovation to the water habitat.

"It is a very complicated system with UV, ozone and a number of filters," said Santos, who added, "Louise the hippo could be back in her habitat by this summer."

There are big plans in the zoo's future, including expansion of its conservation program to breed and release endangered species.
Santos feels the zoo will soon be ready for re-accreditation, which it lost several years ago.
"We're going to put our best foot forward and apply in 2019, and see if we get accredited in 2020," added Santos.

But for some zoo visitors, international accreditation isn't as important as the attraction's appeal.

"I don't know what accredited is exactly for a zoo. From what I've seen so far, the Honolulu Zoo looks like a nice one," said Charles Douglas, a visitor from Missouri.

Accreditation would allow the Honolulu Zoo to have a say in species survival plans, and to participate in international zoo programs.

Locally, the zoo will also add programs to draw in different groups of visitors with unique events - like a monthly botanical tour.

"We're trying to create more guest experiences," said Santos.

One thing is sure, the old Honolulu Zoo is undergoing changes in 2018. 

"If you haven't been in years come on down. It has changed quite a bit. I think they will be pleased," added Santos.

Next up for the zoo, construction of the Sun Bears exhibit, which will go in next to the new salamander habitat.