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Tuesday, December 10, 2019
Auditor: Zoo Loses Track of $658K
By News Release @ 6:41 PM :: 4087 Views :: Honolulu County, Ethics, Tourism

Audit of the Department of Enterprise Services Operations - Honolulu Zoo

From Honolulu Auditor, December 6, 2019 (excerpt)

…The Office of the City Auditor determined this audit was warranted due to concerns related to reaccreditation, lack of sustained leadership, and insufficient financial support by the City and County of Honolulu and Honolulu Zoo Society.

The audit objectives were to:

1. Assess the relationship between the city and the Honolulu Zoological Society for managing and operating the Honolulu Zoo;

2. Determine if the Honolulu Zoo has a maintenance program in place to ensure that facilities are maintained in a proactive and systematic manner;

3. Assess the sustainability of the Honolulu Zoo; and

4. Compare the Honolulu Zoo with similar structured jurisdictions in the nation.


The Honolulu Zoo, established in 1947, is a 42.5 acre zoological and botanical garden located within Queen Kapi'olani Regional Park. The zoo's mission is to inspire the stewardship of our living world by providing meaningful experiences to our guests. The zoo, which received a $7.8 million appropriation in FY 2019, is administered by the Department of Enterprise Services and is supported by special funds. In 2016, the Honolulu Zoo lost accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The loss of accreditation was a major setback for the Waikiki attraction because it hurt the zoo's reputation, hindered its ability to both breed and import exotic animals, and limited its ability to grow and diversify animal exhibits.  The AZA cited the lack of sustained leadership, insufficient financial support, and underachievement as reasons for denying accreditation. Through this audit, we revisited select issues identified by the AZA in 2016 and examined other management and operational challenges facing the zoo.

Audit Results

We found that due to lack of internal controls and proper monitoring, there was a $658,343 discrepancy in financial support from the Honolulu Zoo Society. Between FY 2015 and FY 2017, the society reported $854,488 in contributions to the city's zoo operations. However, gift resolutions during the same time period total $196,145. We found that DES and the Honolulu Zoo do not include funds received through gifts in its operating budget and the Zoo Society's financial support to the zoo's operations are not tracked. Furthermore, we found that the reported society contributions were overstated by $295,111 when we compared the society's contributions with audited financial statements.

The cooperative agreement between the zoo and the Zoo Society hampered roles and responsibilities. We found that the zoo and the Zoo Society operated without an agreement between September 2016 and August 2019. We also found that the cooperative agreement hampered, instead of clarified, roles and responsibilities. The Department of Enterprise Services (DES) lacked effective measures to evaluate the cooperative agreement between the Honolulu Zoo and Zoo Society. Absent any progress toward improvement, DES should consider alternative governance structures for its zoo operations.

Operationally, the zoo is adversely impacted by staffing shortages and maintenance deficiencies. In order to meet staffing requirements and daily operation obligations, we found that the zoo relied on costly overtime that totaled $763,943 from FY 2015 to FY 2017. As identified by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, we found that sustaining staff and staffing levels at the zoo continues to be an issue for zoo operations. We found that maintenance operations are open to staff interpretation and done haphazardly with deferred maintenance costs increasing and areas of the zoo not maintained properly. Additionally, the zoo is unable to align its strategic vision to get maintenance to a target state and is unable to identify gaps and improvement opportunities.

The Managing Director and the Department of Enterprise Services generally agreed with the report's findings and recommendations. The department indicated that since our audit work was completed, it had implemented, or was in the process of implementing, improvements to address challenges identified in the audit report. While we were unable to verify or assess some of the improvements made because they were implemented outside of our audit review period, we are encouraged by the department's initiatives and hope they will result in meaningful improvements in the zoo's administration and operation….

read … Full Report 

HNN: Audit raises concerns about donation record-keeping, outdated facilities at zoo  

SA: City auditor slams Honolulu Zoo


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