HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – Where It’s All Happening


By Kelly Moran

Where It’s All Happening

On September 26th, Namaste will be twelve years old.  Six bands showed up at his home to play for his eleventh birthday, last year, and several restaurants brought delicious food (“ono grinds,” as folks here like to say) for the many guests. A special birthday cake was prepared for Namaste alone to eat, and his favorite present was a new pillow.

Namaste, you see, is a white Bengal tiger. The “cake” was made of bones; and the pillow was stuffed with catnip.


Namaste is arguably the prime attraction at the Hilo zoo – or, to give it its full name, in the Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo, for it is the only zoo in America sited in a natural rainforest (kept moist by the famous Hilo rain). But Namaste is far from the only attraction. Our local zoo has a surprisingly wide variety of animals: rare South American birds and lizards; monkeys, lemurs and other primates; peacocks that stroll around the grounds, displaying their fanned-out feathers; grotesque creatures, like anteaters; and familiar creatures, like delicate Axis deer and huge hairy pigs which have been introduced to the Hawaiian Islands to be hunted. What they all have in common is that they can and do live comfortably in this climate. There are no polar bears or penguins.

Lizzy the lounging Green Iguana
Lizzy the Lounging Green Iguana - Photo by Roger Simons, Zookeeper

To walk around is to take a pleasant stroll through a unique park, even if you don’t stop to look at the animals. The paths are well paved (and wheelchair-accessible), and lined with trees, shrubs and flowers both native and exotic: the many palms and flowering trees are especially attractive. Among the rarities (kept in a cage) is one that blossoms only occasionally, and can be pollinated only by flies, which are drawn to the flower’s unique scent, said to resemble that of rotting flesh; hence its nickname: the “corpse flower” plant.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the zoo is open nearly every day of the year. But what is remarkable is that admission is always free!

Mr.& Mrs. Pickles sunbathing Tegus
Mr.& Mrs. Pickles: Sunbathing Tegus - Photo by Roger Simons, Zookeeper

The zoo is located off Highway 11, between Hilo and Kea’au; the turnoff is well marked, and the zoo is just past the Pana’ewa Equestrian Center (about which I will also write, soon).  The zoo’s website ( includes a virtual tour. Be sure to say Happy Birthday to Namaste, when you go.

Kinkajou Peek-A-Boo
Kinkajou Peek-A-Boo - Photo by Roger Simons, Zookeeper

One Reply to “HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – Where It’s All Happening”

  1. This lovely spot also harbours beautiful bamboo of many varieties!
    We enjoyed a visit here in 1986 and again in 2009. Happy Birthday Namaste! Ellen and Brian Giles Whidbey Island, WA

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