An early Valentine's Day at zoo
By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Robbie Dingeman
When Rusti met Violet, the big orangutan spat in her face. Being an assertive female, she spat right back.
"It's been love ever since," said zookeeper Malia Davis. "That was all it took."
That's the inside story from the Honolulu Zoo, where the pair of great apes spent the past few days mingling in the big, privately funded $700,000 display. After years in a small cage — alone — Rusti got a mate and a chance to roll in the grass all in the same week.
Today is the first time the two will be on public display.
After a lifetime in captivity — mostly spent in concrete and chain link — Rusti is luxuriating in the grass, gazing at the sky and cruising in a series of hammocks woven from fire hoses. The new enclosure is 20 times bigger than the old cage.
Violet moved from the San Diego Zoo in December to become Rusti's companion in the big new digs. She was in quarantine for the first month, then the two were getting acquainted gradually.
Davis — who has helped care for Rusti for more than nine years — said Rusti is living large. "He can't believe what kind of place he has — he has a castle now," she said.
Davis fed the two apes frozen strawberries while they charmed their way through their latest photo opportunity at the zoo yesterday afternoon. At one point, Rusti just sat and watched Violet as she finished her snack.
"He's totally enamored of her," Davis said.
Zoo director Ken Redman said he was surprised that neither Rusti nor Violet has tried to climb the exhibit's banyan tree. Violet, who lived with several orangutans in California, is the more active of the two, roaming the exhibit constantly since they moved in Tuesday.
The two have been neutered, but that hasn't stopped them from developing a relationship.
Davis said she's become very fond of Rusti. But she could see how Violet might find him a bit pushy. "If he was a real man, I wouldn't want to hang around him," Davis said.
Rusti became one of the zoo's most popular residents even when he lived in a cramped cage. But now he's hanging out under a banyan tree, eating papayas and chasing Violet.
"We're all really happy for Rusti. He finally got his American dream," Davis said.
Reach Robbie Dingeman at firstname.lastname@example.org.