Thursday, February 11, 1999

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
Mammal specialist Richard Ball visits with Mari the
elephant at the Honolulu Zoo.

Zoo must expand
elephants’ quarters, make
room for male companion

A plan is in the works so the
females don't pack their trunks
and go away

By Gordon Y.K. Pang


The Honolulu Zoo could lose its elephants -- females Mari and Vaigai -- unless their home is expanded to accommodate a male companion.

A "strongly worded letter" from the Department of the Interior last February urged the changes be made as soon as possible, although the agency gave no firm deadline, city Enterprise Services Director Alvin Au said yesterday.

Vaigai's arrival seven years ago required an import permit from the Interior Department's Office of Management Authority, Au told the City Council's Executive Matters and Economic Development Committee.

A stipulation of that permit was that Vaigai be placed in a breeding situation. But that would require the elephants' quarters to be larger than their current home in order to accommodate a male elephant, Au said.

A plan to upgrade the facility has been in the works for at least the last six years, he said.

But the $6 million price tag has consistently proved too steep for the administration or Council members, and the project has not been funded, he said.

Budget Director Malcolm Tom said the project was in the administration's budget for 1996 and 1998 but rejected both times by the Council.

Au said his staff is now working with the Design and Construction Department to come up with a scaled-down expansion that would cost about $3 million.

Zoo Director Ken Redman said the exhibit needs to be enlarged to allow a bull elephant to be separated from the females.

Male elephants, Redman said, have periods when they become extremely aggressive and need to be isolated.

The expansion -- following the strong recommendation of the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums -- also includes plans for a restraining facility that would allow trainers to work on an elephant under less dangerous conditions.

Both Mari and Vaigai, 23 and 13 years old respectively, are in prime breeding age.

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