Question: Whatever happened to the controversy involving the elephant exhibit at the zoo? Is the Department of Interior still looking at the possibility of taking elephants Mari and Vaigai away?
Zoo elephant exhibit
area will get bigger
Answer: A larger elephant exhibit, which will provide the particular facilities necessary for the two resident females to mate with visiting males, is in the final design phase. Construction is scheduled to begin in April, according to city Deputy Managing Director Malcolm Tom.
Construction couldn't begin immediately anyway, Tom said, since the gharial crocodile exhibit has to be moved and utilities put into place.
The elephants will be moving into a significantly larger area totaling 51,000 square feet. They currently have 6,000 square feet.
"We're going from an exhibit to an elephant habitat," Tom said.
The new elephant area would include a breeding pen, separate habitats for the females and their male visitors, a viewing deck and encounter area for the public to interact with the animals, and a specialized sewer system, Tom said.
Gibbon apes will also be incorporated into the elephant exhibit, he said. The new facility will be part of the Asian rainforest, which is between the primates and the African savanna, Tom said.
The most recent cost estimates put the project at $5.8 million. The city has already appropriated $4.4 million. An additional $1.4 million is part of a supplemental budget request being considered by the City Council.
The Department of Interior, which regulates the importation of endangered species, raised concerns last year that the city had not made improvements that would allow for bull elephants to visit for breeding purposes. Facilities suited to elephant courting had been stipulated in the 1992 permit that allowed for Vaigai's arrival at the Honolulu Zoo.
Vaigai turned 15 on Christmas Eve. Mari is 25. Neither have ever mated.
Tom said the Interior Department is satisfied with the progress being made.
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