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Panaewa Rainforest Zoo

Walk On The Wild Side In Hilo

Even a sleepy seaside town like Hilo has its wild side. For proof, just head to the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo, the only zoo in America situated in a tropical rain forest.

Set on 12 acres, the zoo spotlights the cuddly, feathery or sometimes scaly inhabitants of our world’s rainforests, including a water buffalo, axis deer, a pygmy hippo, spider monkeys, an iguana, feral goats, vultures, parrots, sloths, reptiles and more. Also available for viewing are some native Hawaiian species, including the nene goose, Hawaii’s official state bird.

The Star Attraction

The zoo’s star attraction is Namaste, a white Bengal tiger whose name, loosely translated from Indian to Hawaiian, means “aloha.” Namaste was raised in Las Vegas and donated to the zoo by magician Dirk Arthur, who was impressed with the zoo’s facilities. According to the zoo, Namaste and every other white tiger currently in captivity—about 250 in all—are descended from Mohan, a wild white Bengal tiger caught by the Maharaja of Rewa in 1951.

If watching a 450-pound kitty enjoy his supper is your idea of fun, Namaste’s feeding time is 3:30 p.m. daily. We’re told that his regular diet includes 10 pounds of meat and three whole chickens (now that’s a hungry tiger!).

namaste at panaewa rain forest zoo
Namaste, or “aloha,” a white Bengal tiger, is the zoo’s star attraction

Zoo Size

This isn’t an exceptionally large zoo—the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo houses a total of about 150 animals in all—but it’s big enough to delight animal lovers of all ages. If anything, the zoo’s intimate size gives almost every featured critter a unique celebrity status. Besides Namaste, of course, you’ll be able to say hello to Arnie the water buffalo; Cupid the axis deer; and Curly, the black and white Colobus monkey. In 2003, when Spike the giant anteater celebrated his first birthday, congratulatory wishes were extended all the way from the University of California-Irvine (the school’s mascot, naturally, is an anteater).

Namaste taking a nap. Video by lovelifesimply


The zoo is open daily except for Christmas and New Years Day. While there is no admission charge, donations are accepted. A petting zoo is open every Saturday from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m.