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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, August 30, 2002

Zoo's elephants get larger play pen

By Shayna Coleon
Advertiser Staff WRiter

Mari, left, and Vaigai, the only elephants at the Honolulu Zoo, will soon have larger quarters to help them breed.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

Mari and Vaigai, the two Indian elephants at the Honolulu Zoo, are no longer in danger of being shipped away.

The permit that brought the endangered elephants here required that if they could not be bred, the zoo would be obliged to transport them elsewhere.

But city officials said yesterday the construction of their larger breeding pen will start within the next 60 days. The 14,500-square feet enclosure will be built within the city's $7 million construction budget, said Ben Lee, city managing director.

Lee said the $7 million is "more than enough for the pen," the infrastructure and the sewage drainage to accommodate the elephants.

"We're still kind of arm wrestling with (the city's) Design and Construction Department and the contractors to design a facility within the budget ... but we're proceeding with the elephant pen," Lee said.

By reducing landscaping plans and the construction of other added features to the zoo's elephant exhibition area, the city was able to lower the $13.2 million project to $11.3 million, Lee said.

The remaining $4.3 million will be made up after the city looks at other ways to reduce the cost.

Lee said the original plan included the construction of a gibbons habitat and exhibition area, a wooden pavilion, covered seating and a small office. Those features will be put off until later, he said.

In 1999, the federal government threatened to remove the elephants if a breeding facility was not built. But with the money, the elephants are here to stay, Lee said.

"We think the elephants are a very important part of the zoo, and we basically have a commitment to keep the elephants here," he said.