photo unavailable Gathering Place

Arnold Van Fossen

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Rusti needs rescuing
from higher primates
running Honolulu Zoo

About a hundred years ago I used to walk through the Central Park Zoo in New York City. It was fun to see the seals playing in their pool and the small primates playing "catch me" in their cages. But it wasn't all fun -- at least, not for all the animals.

The most pathetic sight was a caged gorilla who sat by an old discarded tire and stared, not at the people who did stupid things in front of his cage, pleading for recognition. He stared at the memories of his mind, fields and forest and friends, all gone forever. He sat there, year after year doing nothing but passing the time. He had to be the loneliest critter on the face of the Earth. He had lost something vital.

Years later, millions of people responded when the call to "Free Willy" went out. Keiko, the captive orca who portrayed himself (though with a different name) in the movie, was eventually freed. The first captive orca to be returned to the wild, Keiko spent his last years in a fjord in Norway, free to come and go but usually staying near the humans who cared for him. However, millions of schoolchildren and adults felt vindicated because they actually got involved.

Now it is time to get involved with our zoo. It is time to call out the army of caring schoolchildren to help save Rusti from the fate of that New York gorilla.

In Hawaii, we have a captive alien species locked away in an unnatural situation. Granted, Rusti is not a killer whale and nobody has made a movie about his life. He is an orangutan, a higher primate, a beast who deserves better than the city of Honolulu has provided for him. It is time for the battle cry of FREE RUSTI to be taken up by the schoolchildren.

So paint up the signs, print up the T-shirts and freshen up the collection tins, and let us finally take Rusti's future out of the hands of the City Council. I can't think of a one of them who is qualified to make decisions affecting Rusti's life when they can't make a dent in the number of potholes all over the island that need fixing.

It is time that Rusti is released from his captivity here in our Naked Paradise and placed with people who are knowledgeable and trained in making a happy life for aging orangutans. If someone is willing to build yet another cage for the beautiful orange beastie, then let them pay for his airfare to a better life. There is no real reason for keeping Rusti sitting here in Honolulu. He is not happy. His heart lies in the jungles of Borneo and Sumatra. If we cannot send him there, let us find a shelter for orangutans where he can finish his life with others of his species.

Rusti can be helped, but not here. We need a Jane Goodall, someone who will get involved in rescuing this gentle, intelligent creature.

Arnold Van Fossen is an artist who lives in Waikiki.


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