Honolulu Zoo's elephant exhibit ranked one of ten worst - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Honolulu Zoo's elephant exhibit ranked one of ten worst

Manuel Mollinedo Manuel Mollinedo

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - It took a year and a-half to build the new elephant enclosure at the Honolulu Zoo. It took one survey from an animal rights organization to rank it in the Bottom Ten of elephant exhibits in the United States.

"It's still quite small and it is already out of date, especially compared to what's being done at other zoos," said Catherine Doyle of In Defense of Animals (IDA).

The non-profit group said while other zoos build elephant habitats three or more acres in size, Honolulu gives its elephants little room.

But zoo director Manuel Mollinedo defends the 2.5 acre exhibit. He calls it spacious, with two areas and two 55,000-gallon swimming pools.

"We exercise our animals," he said. "They roam around through there. I've seen them running in this new exhibit."

Mollinedo said the layout of the $12 million enclosure ensures Asian elephants Mari and Vaigai will not be bored, and people can see them up close.

"It's way bigger than the last one. You get to see the elephants a lot more than before," Kapolei resident Aislyn Stone said.

"It looks very large and nice. They look pretty happy to me," Australian visitor Wade Larkin said.

But Doyle said the size of the habitat could pose a health risk.

"Elephants who are kept in a small amount of space are in danger of developing chronic foot disease or arthritis, both of which can kill," she said.

"Our elephants have very healthy feet," Mollinedo said. "We X-ray the foot pads so that we can have base line information regarding the condition of their feet."

Zoos in Arizona, Massachusetts and Ohio also made IDA's bottom ten. It based its ranking of the Honolulu Zoo on reports, not eyewitness accounts

"I think we've done it right. And I think these elephants are enjoying the fruits of this new exhibit," Mollinedo said.

IDA also worries that introducing a male elephant to the habitat would make the enclosure even smaller.

Mollinedo said a bull elephant may be brought in for breeding purposes. Artificial insemination is also being considered. But he said that's years away. Right now the zoo is more concerned with how Mari and Vagai like their new home.

Copyright 2011 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved

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