Saturday, April 24, 2004

Orangutan deal
raises concerns

The city is still trying to work out plans to move Rusti the orangutan to the Honolulu Zoo more than two months after Mayor Jeremy Harris made the announcement.

Because of the delay, plans to break ground on a new habitat for Rusti this summer are behind schedule, said Sherry Broder, a Honolulu attorney working for the Orangutan Foundation International, Rusti's owner.

The latest wrinkle is a letter to Harris from the American Zoo and Aquarium Association noting that the proposed agreement between the city and the Orangutan Foundation conflicts with the association's accreditation standards for zoos.

Mary Healy, chairwoman of the association's accreditation commission, wrote Harris on March 31 that several aspects of the city's agreement with the Orangutan Foundation give it, rather than the city zoo director, authority over management decisions for Rusti. That, she wrote, "may place the zoo's accreditation in jeopardy."

Healy also noted that proposed funding of $200,000 for a new enclosure for Rusti does not appear to be adequate.

"Our intent is to assist the Honolulu Zoo in maintaining the standards of excellence required to be a member of the elite group of 214 zoos and aquariums accredited by AZA," Healy wrote.

Yesterday, city Managing Director Ben Lee wrote Healy, saying, "We believe the arrangement referenced (between the city and the Orangutan Foundation) is consistent with AZA guidelines and does not conflict with accreditation standards."

That statement has not been completed yet, Broder said.

A month ago, the City Council's Parks Committee postponed accepting the Orangutan Foundation's gift of a new enclosure for Rusti because of questions:

» Why the city's proposed agreement eliminates liability for the Orangutan Foundation and its employees for any injuries or damage caused by Rusti if a foundation employee makes a mistake that leads to an escape or problem.

» Whether a provision in the agreement allowing a foundation collection box by Rusti's cage would violate Kapiolani Park Trust rules against commercial activity in the park, which includes the zoo.

» What would happen if a proper enclosure for Rusti cannot be built for the $200,000 specified in the agreement.

» Why a proposed Orangutan Foundation sanctuary on the Big Island was never built.


E-mail to City Desk


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