Zoo history tells Honolulu stories

Aaaah--scratching an itch giraffe style on the cover of The Honolulu Zoo.

Aaaah–scratching an itch giraffe style on the cover of The Honolulu Zoo.

“The animals are coming!” proclaimed the headline in Honolulu’s Pacific Commercial Advertiser on August 16, 1916. It was the beginning of what would become the Honolulu Zoo, and included among the creatures on a steamship from Canada was Daisy the elephant. Readers of this blog might recall that, soon after her arrival, Daisy was a hit at the first Maui County Fair. She was quite the thing in Honolulu in those days as well, as described in the new book The Honolulu Zoo: Waikiki’s Wildlife Treasure 1915-2015. The book was written by a friend I have never met in person–Paul Breese, director emeritus of the zoo, and his wife, retired teacher Jean DeMercer-Breese.

My first connection with Paul occurred when I was working on Haleakala: A History of the Maui Mountain. He was in a picture from a 1971 meeting about the plans for the Kipahulu section of the Haleakala National Park, taken when Paul was chief of the state wildlife division, after serving as zoo director from 1947 to 1965. I called his Big Island home with some questions. It was the beginning of a phone relationship in which we discovered we shared friends from long ago and maybe even were once at the same party in Waianae! It’s a small world, on these little islands in the middle of a great big ocean.

Our primary topic of conversation has been book publishing, specifically the kind of self-publishing I have done for the past 15 years or so. My Haleakala book, similar in many ways to Paul’s plans for a zoo book, was a few years ahead of his, so I could share my experience and advice. In return, Paul did whatever he could to promote my book on the Big Island.

The result is a keepsake book that recalls 100 years of caring for animals at the zoo located in the beautiful Kapi`olani Park near Diamond Head. It is also a glimpse at Honolulu history, wonderfully illustrated with photographs, newspaper clippings, and Harry Lyons cartoons (sure to bring nostalgia to former Honolulu residents).

The book describes how the zoo has preserved and bred several rare and endangered species, including the nene, i`iwi, alae ula and a number of animals from other places–for example, birds native to the Marianas Islands that otherwise would’ve been destroyed by the brown tree snake. The book’s logo includes a Cassowary, a Galapagos tortoise and an Asiatic Hornbill, difficult-to-propagate species that the Honolulu Zoo was able to rear with techniques it later shared with other zoos.

The Honolulu Zoo is a good bet for a Christmas present for animal lovers, zoo goers and Hawai`i history buffs; it will fit into a USPS flat-rate envelope. Find out more at www.honoluluzoobooks.com

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