Sherry Broder


Orangutan’s home will remain at the zoo

Saturday, February 14, 2004

A larger cage will be built for Rusti after the city reaches a deal

It turns out Rusti the orangutan was home all along.

The seven-year ordeal to find Rusti a permanent home ended yesterday with the announcement that he will stay at the Honolulu Zoo, his temporary home since 1997.

His owner, Orangutan Foundation International, will build him a new, spacious enclosure surrounding his own banyan tree, Mayor Jeremy Harris announced in front of Rusti's current cage.

Rusti's new home, measuring several thousand square feet, will be built in a former temporary elephant area on the zoo's mauka side. It will cost about $200,000 and should be ready this summer, city officials said.

The cage where Rusti has spent the last seven years will then be razed to create a lorikeet bird exhibit.

"I am happy Rusti will be able to spend the rest of his life here, in a banyan tree in Honolulu," said Birute Galdikas, a pioneering orangutan researcher and president of Orangutan Foundation International.

Galdikas said Rusti, now 24 years old and about 300 pounds, is in excellent health and could live well into his mid-30s. It is possible that Rusti could eventually have a female companion in the new enclosure, she said, although he is neutered and could not have offspring.

Rusti celebrated his good fortune on Friday the 13th by munching down a lei of broccoli, pineapple, celery, dried apricots, oranges and cabbage, with a side of Jif peanut butter, and imbibing some orange drink.

"It has fingers just like us, four fingers and a thumb," Chris Maneja, 4, told his mother as they watched Rusti yesterday.

Chris said it's "great" that Rusti won't be leaving the zoo, but will be getting a larger cage.

"One of the things that make Honolulu so dear to me is that the people of Honolulu have recognized Rusti's personhood," Galdikas said.

Ever since moving here in 1997, Rusti has been a popular attraction at the zoo after he was rescued from a substandard New Jersey private zoo. He was being kept in Honolulu awaiting a new home in the Panaewa Zoo on the Big Island that never materialized.

"All you have to do is see the faces of the children to see that truly he belongs in Hawaii," Harris said.

Galdikas thanked Harris and the city yesterday "for the kindness shown to Rusti all these years" as the foundation unsuccessfully tried to build an orangutan refuge on the Big Island, then to move him to Kualoa Ranch on Oahu's Windward side.

The latter effort ended last month when ranch President John Morgan announced that the ranch was pulling back on the plans to house Rusti.

Her organization was planning to move Rusti to a refuge in California or Florida when the Harris administration approached it about keeping him at the zoo, Galdikas said yesterday.

Under a written agreement between the city and the foundation, the foundation will continue to pay for Rusti's food (about $250 worth of fruits and vegetables a month), a designated keeper and the full cost of the new enclosure, said Sherry Broder, attorney for the foundation. The zoo's staff veterinarian will provide services, as needed, at the city's expense, she said.

Ann Kobayashi, the City Council's Budget Committee chairwoman, said as long as the Orangutan Foundation pays for the new, larger enclosure for Rusti, the agreement seems to be a good one that the Council can support.

"I think he deserves a home," she said.

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