Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Rusti the orangutan has lived in a tiny cage at the Honolulu Zoo since 1997. Now, with about $500,000 in private donations, the zoo can start building a larger home for him.

Donation means Rusti can
get new home and gal pal

Work is expected to start next
month on the orangutan's home

Rusti the orangutan might get a girlfriend and a two-bedroom home at the Honolulu Zoo, after an anonymous donor gave $100,000 for new living quarters for the animals.

The 25-year-old bachelor is in the prime of his life but has had a vasectomy, so the move is not for breeding, zoo officials said. Although male orangutans are solitary animals, zoo Director Ken Redman said another orangutan could offer companionship. And it has to be a female because territorial males don't get along.

Redman declined to name the prospective companion, but he said she is a hybrid -- half Sumatran, half Bornean -- like Rusti, and a few years younger.

As for the new home, the latest donation brings the total to about $500,000, which is enough to cover construction, with no public funds needed. It can't come too soon. The massive Rusti has endured a tiny cage at the zoo for years.

Rusti came to the Honolulu Zoo in 1997 for a temporary stay while his owner, the Orangutan Foundation International, tried to find a suitable home for the charismatic mammal.

Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou said the second orangutan, also unable to breed, would be brought over under a loan agreement from a California zoo. The Honolulu Zoo would pay for her care while she's here.

Djou, whose 2-year-old daughter is a frequent zoo visitor and a big Rusti fan, said it would be wonderful to have a second orangutan, but "given the long history of Rusti, we should be very cautious."

Despite the large donations for Rusti's new home, Djou said zoo officials need to be careful, citing the high costs to build the Asian elephant enclosure.

But Redman said the elephant enclosure didn't cost that much, and the zoo is making sure the architect and contractors are keeping cost estimates in check for Rusti's home.

In the meantime, zoo officials plan to discuss sharing some of the costs of caring for the female orangutan with the Orangutan Foundation.

So far, the following individuals and organizations have donated on behalf of Rusti: Orangutan Foundation International, $200,000; Erin Keck of the Chelsey Foundation, $100,000; Rose Vincent bequest, $100,000; and anonymous donor, $100,000.

Redman said the city is going through the permitting process for Rusti's new home at the zoo. He expects construction to begin next month and be completed by summer or early fall.

Honolulu Zoo
Orangutan Foundation International

E-mail to City Desk


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