GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Rusti the orangutan, left, and his new mate, Violet, were the picture of domesticity yesterday at the Honolulu Zoo.
Rusti and Violet, swingin’ in a tree ...
The two orangutans are getting along "great" in their new home at the Honolulu Zoo
Less than two weeks since orangutans Rusti and Violet first met and spat on each other, the happy couple is ready for their spacious new habitat at the Honolulu Zoo to open to public viewing today.
See Rusti & Violet
The Honolulu Zoo is open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily.
Admission: $6 for out-of-state adults, $4 for adult Hawaii residents or military, $1 for children 6 to 12 years old and free for children under 6
Where: Rusti and Violet's new home is in the mauka-Diamond Head corner of the zoo, not far from his former enclosure.
On the Net: For more on Rusti and Violet and orangutans, see www.honoluluzoo.org/orangutan.htm.
"See how he looks at her when she's eating," zookeeper Malia Davis said as Violet munched on a slightly frozen strawberry. "He's totally in love."
Asked if calling it love was humanizing the great apes' relationship too much, Davis rephrased her description only a little.
"If it's not love, they still dig each other," she said. "They definitely like each other."
Keeper Larry Rostrata said, "He's love-struck. He doesn't even care about food anymore."
The pair are getting along "great, just great," said zoo Director Ken Redman. "I couldn't have imagined it any better than this."
Among zookeepers and members of the media watching Rusti and Violet in their enclosure yesterday was Nancy Briggs, a director of the Orangutan Foundation International. The conservation group owns Rusti, who just turned 26, but intends to keep him at the Honolulu Zoo indefinitely.
Violet, age 28, arrived here Dec. 6, and if things continue to go as they have, she too will likely live out her days in Honolulu. Orangutans in captivity can live 40 to 50 years, Redman said.
Briggs is, for lack of a better word, the couple's matchmaker.
GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Honolulu Zoo orangutans Rusti, left, and his new mate Violet seemed quite comfortable in their new environs yesterday.
At the San Diego Zoo, in a group exhibit of orangutans, she found Violet two years ago. Like Rusti, Violet is a hybrid between the two types of orangutan, those from Borneo and those from Sumatra.
That hybrid status means zookeepers do not want them to have offspring, so both have been operated on so they cannot make babies. But they retain their natural instincts and behaviors.
"She was following this big male orangutan around, and the other females were ignoring him. So I thought, 'She liked big males,'" Briggs said.
That experience with dominant males, who have large throat sacs and cheek pads like Rusti does, has been invaluable. Violet, Redman said, "knows exactly how to handle" Rusti.
Good thing, since Rusti's only contact with his own kind were his mother and sister, long ago in a mainland zoo.
"She's in the courtship and mating behavior," Briggs said of some of the games Violet has instigated with Rusti, such as taking his shredded paper and straw bedding material.
"Then he took some of hers, and they went back and forth," said Briggs, who has been in Honolulu for several days watching the pair together. "It's really very coy and flirtatious."
And all this despite a first encounter on Jan. 24 that started off a little iffy.
Violet was secured in her cement-block sleeping room when Rusti was introduced to a small "day room" that joins the sleeping quarters with the big, 8,000-square-foot main enclosure around a banyan tree.
Rusti was upset at being in a new place, racing around, Rostrata said. Then he saw Violet peering at him from her window. He went over and spat on her.
Violet spat back.
But within 10 minutes, she was passing him a carrot through her window.
Sharing food, Briggs said, is a key sign of compatibility among orangutans. It means "they look on each other as family."
Things have been going well ever since.