Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Rusti the orangutan ate a vegetable lei yesterday during a news conference.

Orangutan gets

A Big Island charity
donates the money for
a new cage at the zoo

A Big Island animal charity gave the Orangutan Foundation $100,000 yesterday to help build a larger cage for Rusti at the Honolulu Zoo.

"I cannot thank you enough for the kindness in your heart and the graciousness in your soul," Orangutan Foundation founder Birute Galdikas said yesterday as she accepted the money from Chelsey Foundation founder Erin Keck, of Waimea, in front of Rusti's cage.

The money is in addition to the $200,000 the Orangutan Foundation has pledged for a new home for Rusti, Honolulu's only orangutan.

"Still more money is needed, but this brings us over the hump," said Galdikas.

The planned 86-foot-diameter cage encircling a 45-foot banyan tree, with an adjacent cement night house, has been estimated to cost $450,000.

City Managing Director Ben Lee said construction work on the cage could begin in 45 to 60 days.

The Orangutan Foundation, which owns Rusti, will hire a contractor to do the work, thus bypassing city procurement procedures, Lee said.

However, city officials, including Zoo Director Ken Redman and Enterprise Services Director Barry Fukunaga, will review and approve all construction documents, Lee added.

The city also will provide any necessary water, waste-water and electric hookup to the area, tree pruning, landscaping and site preparation, Lee said. The value of those services has not been estimated, he said.

Rusti first came to the Honolulu Zoo in 1997 on what was supposed to be a temporary stay.

When Mayor Jeremy Harris announced in February that Rusti would stay at the Honolulu Zoo permanently, he projected Rusti would be in his new home by summer. Now officials are hoping to get him moved by the end of the year.

Keck, who saw the orangutan for the first time yesterday, said: "Rusti is very special to me. I think he represents a specialness in the world."

Keck poured water into Rusti's mouth through openings in his cage and fed him a lei of carrots, celery and cabbage.

Keck's foundation, which she created in 1997, provides care for rescued horses and dogs near Waimea. "Ever since I was a little girl, I had a place in my heart for animals," she said.

Keck would not say how much her foundation has donated to other causes, but did say that the contribution for Rusti was its largest to date.

Under a written agreement with the city, the Orangutan Foundation will continue to pay for his $250 monthly food bill and a special keeper.

Drawings of Rusti's new home show it as having 15-foot-high fencing that will curve inward as an extra assurance that Rusti or any future orangutans could not climb it. It is to be made of fine-meshed fencing too small for his massive hands and feet.

Galdikas said yesterday that although the top of Rusti's cage will be open, he would not be able to jump out of the cage from a tree and over the fence.



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