Honolulu Zoo rated 3rd-worst for elephants
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer
An animal rights group says that Honolulu Zoo elephants Mari and Vaigai are being mistreated, noting that the city hasn't followed through with a decade-old promise to build a larger enclosure for them.
City officials said the accusations by the San Rafael, Calif.-based nonprofit group In Defense of Animals have no basis in fact. They said In Defense of Animals has been called an "anti-zoo extremist" organization by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, an independent organization which has accredited Honolulu Zoo.
In Defense of Animals ranks the Honolulu Zoo third on its list of 2009 Top Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants. It is the first time the Honolulu Zoo appears on the list, which includes nine U.S. zoos and one Canadian zoo.
Honolulu Zoo's elephant exhibit is antiquated and "crams two of the worlds largest land mammals into a mere 6,000 square feet," the group said in a news release yesterday.
The organization pointed out that the city has been planning an expanded elephant exhibit for more than 10 years. It also noted that the planned exhibit, at 38,000 square feet, is less than an acre.
City Enterprise Services Director Sidney Quintal, in a written statement, said the city is committed to completing the exhibit. A consultant is expected to submit a set of plans to city in early February and a call for bids is planned for mid-April, he said.
The exhibit is expected to have two habitats: one for the zoo's two female elephants, Mari and Vaigai, the other for a yet-to-be-acquired bull elephant.
"This is in anticipation of the zoo's desire to have a baby elephant born in Honolulu Zoo," Quintal said.
When the city first obtained Vaiga in the early 1990s, an import permit from the Department of Interior's Office of Management Authority stipulated that Vaigai be placed in a breeding situation. But that can't happen without an expansion to accommodate a male elephant.
In 1999, the federal agency indicated it might take away the elephants unless the improvements were made. Then-Mayor Jeremy Harris and then-Councilman Mufi Hannemann both promised to find funding for the project.
Quintal, in his statement yesterday, did not explain why it has taken 11 years to put the project out to bid.
The animal rights group said many of the zoos on its list have inadequate living space for elephants.
"Confinement of these giants to tiny enclosures wreaks havoc on their physical and psychological health and leads to premature death for many," In Defense of Animals said in its report.
"Honolulu Zoo firmly believes that elephants belong in the wild and our animals are in captivity to support these wild populations," Quintal said.