Orangutan’s new cage
could be ready soon

The awaited pen is larger
and being built at Kualoa Ranch

Rusti the orangutan could be living in a spacious cage built around a monkeypod or banyan tree in a secluded area of Kualoa Ranch, perhaps within months.

His enclosure could be as small as 40 feet by 40 feet, with a 20-foot high roof or as large as 75 feet by 150 feet with no roof, but surrounded by a high, unclimbable fencing built to withstand an orangutan's more-than-human strength.

Either way, the proposals would be bigger than the cage at the Honolulu Zoo where he's lived since 1997, waiting for a new home.

The description of the 23-year-old male orangutan's potential home came from Eric Crispin, director of the city Department of Planning and Permitting. Crispin said he met last week with three representatives of the Orangutan Foundation International while they were on Oahu.

The foundation was denied a building permit from Crispin's office after building a temporary cage for him at Kualoa Ranch. Animal welfare inspectors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture deemed the structure not strong enough to hold Rusti, Crispin said.

"The direction OFI is heading in now is providing a more substantial, correctly designed, adequate facility for Rusti," somewhere mauka of ranch buildings and the temporary cage, Crispin said.

Rusti is the Los Angeles-based organization's only orangutan in the United States.

Orangutan Foundation development manger Jim Dugan said yesterday that he couldn't say how long it would take to build Rusti an enclosure at Kualoa, how much it would cost, or whether the organization has the money in hand.

"Answering all those questions is on our to-do list," Dugan said, adding that the organization is purposefully not saying much publicly because of detractors in Hawaii.

Kualoa Ranch President John Morgan could not be reached for comment.

Linda Vannatta, a Honolulu Zoo employee who as an individual filed a lawsuit seeking to void the state Department of Agriculture's approval of moving Rusti to Kualoa, and Cathy Goeggel, director of Animal Rights Hawaii, have said they think Rusti would be better off at the Center for Great Apes in Wauchula, Fla.

Director Patti Ragan said last week that the center, which only gives limited tours, still is willing to accept Rusti and that she doesn't know why Orangutan Foundation decided against the move after it spent $40,000 to build a night house for Rusti there.

The Orangutan Foundation has owned Rusti since he was rescued from a roadside zoo in New Jersey in 1997. It has tried unsuccessfully to build an orangutan sanctuary on the Big Island.

Barry Fukunaga, director of city Enterprise Services, said even though the city wants to unload Rusti and proceed with plans to turn his area into a bird exhibit, it will keep him until a suitable home can be found.

Environmental watchdog Carroll Cox, president of EnviroWatch, said the city is not requiring planning permits for the enclosure.

But Crispin said the cage requires only a building permit.


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