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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Ranch drops plan for orangutan

By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer

It's back to the drawing board for the owners of Rusti the orangutan as they attempt to find a permanent home for the 23-year-old orangutan.

Rusti the orangutan, who has been living at the Honolulu Zoo for about six years, won't be getting a new home at Kualoa Ranch. John Morgan, president of the ranch, says building a sanctuary for the ape is no longer feasible.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

Rusti has been housed "temporarily" at the Honolulu Zoo for about six years while his owner, Orangutan Foundation International, looked for a site to build a sanctuary. A plan to move Rusti to the Big Island fell through, and now a second proposal to build a special cage at Kualoa Ranch in Windward O'ahu is dead.

The plan was opposed by animal-rights groups, which wanted Rusti sent to a sanctuary in Florida. The groups also argued that Kualoa Ranch would need a special city permit to house an orangutan.

With all the disputes, Kualoa Ranch president John Morgan said the sanctuary was no longer feasible.

"It was one of those things that starts out where you figure, 'What a win-win for everybody,' and so we followed the whole thing up," Morgan said yesterday. "When it got to be a more complicated, a longer and a potentially expensive pro-cess, we decided that we really didn't need this thing at all. It was just not worth it for us."

Officials with the Orangutan Foundation, which is based in Los Angeles, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Morgan said OFI had planned a large facility at his ranch.

"We intended to do the right thing from the beginning, but we didn't know what we were getting into," he said.

Rusti was abandoned by his abusive parents and forced to live in a small cage in a roadside zoo on the Mainland. OFI sent Rusti to the Honolulu Zoo as it attempted to build a sanctuary for up to 20 orangutans near Hilo.

But those plans fell through and Rusti has remained in small quarters, which Honolulu Zoo director Ken Redman characterized as "marginally acceptable."

"It was designed in the 1950s for great apes, but that's not what we do with great apes nowadays," Redman said. "It's OK, but you would prefer to have him somewhere else, more appropriate for an adult male orangutan."

Redman said he had just heard about Kualoa Ranch's change of heart and had not spoken with OFI about alternatives. He said Rusti is popular with the children and the zoo will miss him if and when he moves.

"He is a charismatic orangutan. Not all orangutans are like he is," Redman said. "We will miss him. But you're looking for the good of the animal, not necessarily for the good of the zoo."

Reach Curtis Lum at 525-8025 or culum@honoluluadvertiser.com.