Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Rusti the orangutan hangs out in his pen at the Honolulu Zoo.

Rusti the orangutan
lands a home
at Kualoa Ranch

Zookeepers are upset the animal
will be in a 'roadside zoo,'
says an animal rights activist

By Crystal Kua

Rusti the orangutan won't be packing his bags and heading to Florida after all. He's staying on Oahu at a zoo at Kualoa Ranch.

"There's a cage being built as we speak and we're hoping that Rusti finds a home here shortly," said John Morgan, president and general manager of Kualoa Ranch.

Rusti was rescued from a prisonlike private zoo in New Jersey in 1997 and "temporarily" placed at the Honolulu Zoo while a sanctuary for American-born orangutans was being built in Hilo.

Plans for the sanctuary near the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo in Hilo fell through, and the new plan called for the Orangutan Foundation International to transfer Rusti to the Center for Orangutan and Chimpanzee Conservation in Wauchula, Fla.

Officials with the Orangutan Foundation could not be reached for comment last night.

"I guess they finally came to a conclusion that it would be better if they could come up with a location here and apparently, as I understand it, they had obtained some additional funding for the development of a holding area for Rusti at Kualoa Ranch," said Barry Fukunaga, director of the city Enterprise Services Department, which oversees the Honolulu Zoo. "So they're in the process of constructing and subsequently expanding on that facility so the animal will be in better, ultimately better quarters than we currently have for him."

Fukunaga appeared before the City Council's Parks Committee that was considering a resolution on Mayor Jeremy Harris' plan to privatize the Honolulu Zoo.

Animal rights activist Cathy Goeggel told the committee about Rusti's new living arrangements and that zookeepers "are rightly outraged that (Rusti) is being released to a nonaccredited roadside zoo in Kaaawa."

Goeggel also said that she had photographs of a spider monkey living "in a rusty, horrible cage" near where Rusti will be housed.

"All of a sudden (Rusti's) ending up being in a concrete and metal cube out at Kualoa Ranch. We think the zoo should not release him," Goeggel said.

Morgan disagreed.

"We're concerned about the well-being of all the animals we have and we're convinced that Rusti will be well taken care of in the environment over here," he said.

Kualoa Ranch advertises its zoo and petting zoo with photographs of cows, sheep, horses, ducks, ostriches and a spider monkey. Morgan said the foundation is in charge of designing Rusti's quarters. Orangutan Foundation International and zoo volunteers would be primarily in charge of his care until Kualoa Ranch employees can be trained to take over.

Morgan said there are final state approvals to be met but if all goes well, Rusti should be at the ranch in a month. "I don't see any reason why this shouldn't be a very compatible arrangement for Rusti as well as for the kids who come out to visit."

Kualoa Ranch
Center for Orangutan and Chimpanzee Conservation
Orangutan Foundation International

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