Plenty to do at Keiki Zoo
By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Robbie Dingeman
Ten-year-old Kawika Bartels dropped his jaw when he popped his head up in the fish tank and got an up-close look at an extra-large koi at the Honolulu Zoo's latest exhibit.
Kawika was among the first to tour the new $5.1 million Keiki Zoo — three times larger than the old children's zoo and a major hit among those checking it out yesterday shortly after the official dedication.
Kawika, a fourth-grader at Halau Lokahi Public Charter School, knew the old petting zoo and saw some big improvements with the new displays. He especially liked the exhibits that show an animal's eye view of things — like the tunnel into the middle of the koi pond.
"It was kind of scary," Kawika said. "I thought the fish was going to bite me!" But another look convinced him that the exhibit was pretty cool and worth a second trip after spending some time scratching the ears of the little pigs nearby.
Mayor Mufi Hannemann praised the Honolulu Zoo Society for raising more than $1 million toward the exhibit, and he thanked the staff and the volunteers.
"I am a kid at heart, and no matter how old I get, I still love the zoo," Hannemann said.
Honolulu Zoo Society President Gary Slovin thanked Hannemann for bringing a new attitude of partnership to the zoo and providing a supportive city administration that "gets it" in working with staff and volunteers.
Slovin smiled and looked around at the children gathered. "A lot of our children, our families, would never get to see these animals if we didn't have this zoo," he said.
"A lot of what a society is about is how you treat children and animals," Slovin said. "It's people doing the right things for the right reasons."
Seven-year-old Parker Allen seized the opportunity to milk a replica of a cow, enthusiastically squirting water from the fake udder into the bucket. He pronounced the experience "disgusting in a good way," admiration creeping into his voice.
Parker, a first-grader, was visiting from Fort Worth, Texas, with mom, Stephanie, and brother Jack. They also liked the goats and the fish.
A group of 40 kindergarten students from Jefferson Elementary School spent some time exploring the new exhibit. Principal Vivian Hee said the Waikiki school is fortunate to be located across the street from the zoo and the kids enjoy the many learning experiences there.
"Many of these kids are city kids," Hee said. "They live in apartments and don't get a chance to see farm animals." Yesterday, they petted a llama, goats and pigs, crawled under the guinea pig palace, er, exhibit; milked the faux cow and gave a thumbs-up to the new exhibit, now open daily.
Animal keeper Nancy Quinabo, 31, smiled in amazement at her new working environment. Quinabo, who is from 'Aiea, remembers visiting the zoo as a kid, marveling at the kangaroos, checking out Flower the skunk and nervously climbing the old giraffe tower.
"Scary, but it was cool," she said.
The experience inspired her career. "I've always wanted to do something with animals," she said. And now she does daily.
"What more can you ask for?"
Parker Allen, 7, of Fort Worth, Texas, tries his hand at "milking" a replica cow, one of the hands-on exhibits at the Honolulu Zoo's new Keiki Zoo.
Reach Robbie Dingeman at email@example.com.