Saturday, March 27, 1999

Big Island
going ape over

A Los Angeles-based group
plans to build a facility
near the Hilo Zoo

By Rod Thompson


HILO -- Mayor Stephen Yamashiro has signed a lease allowing the Orangutan Foundation International of Los Angeles to create next to the Hilo Zoo a sanctuary for unwanted orangutans.

"We're absolutely delighted. We're absolutely thrilled," responded Birute Galdikas, an internationally known orangutan researcher who has pushed for the project since 1993.

Galdikas said the foundation hopes to have the first phase built by a July 1 deadline for moving Rusti, an orangutan, from his temporary home at the Honolulu Zoo.

"Rusti deserves a forest," she said.

The non-native forest and climate at the Hilo Zoo were the factors that led Galdikas to propose the facility.

All of the 20 orangutans the facility will eventually house will be tame animals from America, none from their native Indonesia.

Rusti, 18, was housed for many years in a small cage partly below ground at a private zoo in New Jersey.

The inhumane conditions eventually prompted New Jersey officials to turn him over to the Orangutan Foundation.

As many as 200 orangutans in this country -- in private collections or once used for medical research -- may need new homes, a foundation statement said.

Galdikas said the foundation has had offers of other orangutans besides Rusti, but hasn't accepted them because of the lack of a facility.

Galdikas signed a lease with the county three months ago, but Yamashiro didn't sign until Thursday because of legal questions.

County Parks Director Julie Tulang said the county will not be financially responsible for the sanctuary on county-administered state land.

The foundation must put up bonds to assure it will build the facility and to assure an orderly closure if necessary, she said.

Yamashiro added yesterday that the foundation is now required to take over areas such as the zoo parking lot if the financially squeezed county ever decides to close the zoo.

He expressed cautious support. "We said it was a good project that had some real benefits for the zoo and the community," Yamashiro said.

Galdikas said the foundation's directors, meeting this weekend, must still approve the lease.

"It's acceptable. I just want to get Rusti moved," she said.

E-mail to City Desk

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
[Stylebook] [Feedback]

© 1999 Honolulu Star-Bulletin