Honolulu Lite


Hawaii is romancing
the elephants

When it comes to elephants, Hawaii is at a crossroads. Does Hawaii want to see its elephant population expand and thrive or does it want the species to die out in the islands?

As it stands, there are only three prominent elephants here: Vaigai and Mari, who live at the Honolulu Zoo, and Linda, who hangs out at Hawaii Republican Party Headquarters.

All three are endangered species, but there seems to be a growing consensus that they should be nurtured, put into better housing and, dare we say it, romanced.

Vaigai, Mari and Linda used to live quiet lives in obscurity, which, in Hawaii, is the safer route for elephants to take. It wasn't long ago when elephants, well, at least one, was gunned down in the streets of Honolulu.

Sure, it was a rampaging circus elephant who killed his trainer in front of horrified spectators before escaping from the Blaisdell Center and running wild. But it was still an elephant. Authorities said the ironically named "Tyke" was mentally unbalanced, a condition brought on by years of captivity. Is it possible he just panicked suddenly finding himself in a place notorious for its unfriendliness toward elephants in general?

HAWAII HAS HAD a 50-year love affair with donkeys. There's no accounting for taste. But there's a clear shift toward elephants.

First of all, the city has to put up or shut up if it wants keep Mari and Vaigai. Specifically, the city has to put up a living space that is conducive to amour. The feds will only allow them to stay if Vaigai is allowed to mate. The current enclosure is unsuitable for mating because, apparently, too many people are watching. I know it would be hard for me to concentrate on hoochy-koochy with people gawking and throwing peanuts at my eyes.

The proposed new enclosure would cost $11 million, a shocking amount to the City Council, which had come up with only $7.1 million. Council members apparently didn't take into account the expensive little extras that help elephants get into the "mood," like large throw pillows, red velvet drapes, adjustable lighting and a lagoon filled with champagne.

But officials are determined to come up with the money needed to build an elephant enclosure that will have bull elephants around the world begging for a trip to Hawaii.

Things are looking equally good for the other elephant, Linda, who has received support in her campaign for governor from the Honolulu police union. That's quite a coup considering it was the police who emptied their guns and rifles into the disgruntled Tyke.

Like Mari and Vaigai, Linda needs a new home and is eyeing an expensive enclosure at Washington Place. Recent polls show the elephant is ahead of three donkeys in a race for the much sought-after habitat.

It remains to be seen if Hawaii's new interest in elephants is a true romance or merely a passing flirtation.

Charles Memminger, winner of National Society of Newspaper Columnists awards, appears Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. E-mail

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