Honolulu Zoo Children’s Discovery Forest Moves Closer to Reality

The Hawai’i Forest Institute (HFI) was recently awarded a $25,000 grant from the Samuel N. and Mary Castle Foundation and a $10,000 grant from the Pettus Foundation for the Honolulu Zoo Children’s Discovery Forest.  Earlier this year, HFI’s affiliate the Hawai’i Forest Industry Association (HFIA) was awarded a $49,100 for the project through the Hawai’i Tourism Authority Natural Resources Program, administered by the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement.

Honolulu Zoo Children’s Discovery Forest Site Plan

“We are pleased to have been selected by these respected organizations for funding of the Children’s Discovery Forest,” said Heather Simmons HFI’s Executive Director.  “It illustrates their belief that projects like this are needed to teach our keiki and the public about Hawaii’s unique flora and fauna in a culturally sensitive way.”

Located near the zoo entrance and adjacent to the future site of a Native Hawaiian Village, the Discovery Forest will be a representation of natural systems, creating a scene of Hawai’i before the arrival of humans. Native and Polynesian introduced species will be planted. The project will demonstrate culturally significant plant and tree species that once grew near traditional shoreline villages of O’ahu.

The endangered Oahu tree snail, Achatinella mustelina. Photo: Leland Miyano.

This replication of these coastal ecosystems will provide habitat for Hawaiian plants, birds, and invertebrates. The exhibit will be designed to demonstrate culturally significant Hawaiian plant species, the significance of place, and the kuleana of mālama ‘āina (responsibility to care for the land) by integrating traditional Hawaiian forest ecosystems, forest stewardship opportunities, and innovative land-based education for residents and visitors, with an emphasis on providing learning activities for our youngest keiki.

“With the support of these funders and other community partners, HFI will soon realize its dream of re-creating a place where our keiki, residents and visitors can experience a range of Hawaiian ecosystems from coastal environments to upper dryland forests,” stated Travis Idol, HFI’s President of the Board of Directors.

Renowned landscape designer, artist, and author Leland Miyano is working with award-winning landscape architects PBR Hawaii & Associates, Inc. to lead the landscape design planning process.  The topographical survey, schematic design plan, and initial landscape plans have been completed.  HFI plans to break ground in January and engage community volunteers in installing the project in 2013.

The project will start with the strand vegetation of the coast and proceed to the dryland and mesic forest; using examples of indigenous and endemic flora.  Plants that are associated with educational stories will be prominently displayed.  The landscape of the Polynesian-introduced flora will be presented and educational programs will be developed related to topics such as evolution, ecological lessons, endangered species, watershed protection, ahupua’a resource management, and invasive species.

The Honolulu Zoo Children’s Discovery Forest is being modeled after the Pana’ewa Zoo Discovery Forest, a forest demonstration project being created at the Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens in Hilo.


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