Animal magnetism is the theme at the Honolulu Zoo's Valentine's Day celebration
Rusti may be a 315-pound orangutan, but a thin veneer of higher-level social conduct is all that separates him from human beings. For instance, Rusti does not take kindly to tall, powerful males approaching the area he shares with his female companion, Violet. When they do, Rusti often will have his way with Violet right then and there to establish his territory and dominance.
Love Gone Wild
Valentine's Day vodka/wine tasting and tour of zoo:
» When: 7 to 10 p.m. next Thursday
» Place: Honolulu Zoo
» Cost: $40 advance; $50 at door (21 and over only)
» Call: 926-3191
Candlelight dinner on tables for two among the sea creatures:
» When: 7 p.m. next Thursday and Feb. 15
» Place: Waikiki Aquarium
» Menu: Roasted Beet and Goat Cheese Salad, Filet Mignon and Mahi Mahi in Parchment, and chocolate cake with raspberry pure.
» Cost: $300, including champagne reception and "romantic souvenir," to benefit Waikiki Aquarium
» Call: 440-9008
"Sometimes it's a little awkward if you're here with a group of kindergartners," admits Susie Wendland-Gardner, one of the female keepers who cares for Rusti.
Learning about the mating, or as the case may be, recreational habits of orangutans, elephants, gharials (Indian crocodiles) and Sumatran Tigers is part of "Love Gone Wild," a Valentine's celebration at the Honolulu Zoo to raise funds for conservation. Taste of the Wild Catering will serve heavy pupu in a tented area under the stars, with the Honolulu Jazz Quartet complementing the occasional roar or squawk from the sidelines. A martini bar will offer samples of Idol Vodka and a variety of wines also will be served.
Idol, introduced last October, is made from grapes, using the traditional process employed for potatoes or grain, according to W.M. "Wink" Arnott, a sales representative for Better Brands, which donated the alcohol for the event. Like high-end vodkas such as Grey Goose, it's distilled seven times and filtered five for increased smoothness. Selected wines include Kenwood, Hogue, Michael David, DeLoach and Guenoc, a California vineyard owned by Punahou graduate Easton Manson.
Zoo officials expect 300 to 400 people, but will take small groups to animal enclosures for a bit of romantic education.
This involves a visit to the elephants, who seem to get only one chance a year, when females are in estrus. During that time, a male's testosterone soars to 50 times its normal level, creating what Wendland-Gardner calls a "five-legged elephant." When the moment of truth arrives, he drapes his trunk over the female's back in a brief attempt at courtship. Meanwhile, other females gather around to watch, trumpet and celebrate. Afterward, the male may stick around for a whole three weeks -- to make sure the ensuing 22-month pregnancy is his doing.
There's lots to learn from both the zoo keepers and the animals. And the setting isn't bad either. "It's magical," says Carol Arnott, administrative director for the Honolulu Zoo Society. "You hear the animal sounds, and the facility is really quite beautiful."