Panaewa Rainforest Zoo aims to open by end of May

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Mountain goats hang out on the rocks in their enclosure at the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo on Monday, Feb. 9, 2021.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald A primate hangs onto the fencing around the enclosure at the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo on Monday, Feb. 9, 2021.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Landscaping behind the front entrance and gift shop is nearly complete at the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo on Monday, Feb. 9, 2021.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Zoo director Pam Mizuno talks about some of the ongoing construction while walking around the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo on Monday, Feb. 9, 2021.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald The building that will house two Alala is complete at the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo on Monday, Feb. 9, 2021.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Stairs and a ramp lead to the front building of the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo on Monday, Feb. 9, 2021. Construction at the front entrance is nearly complete.

  • A ramp leading to different animal enclosures is being constructed at the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo on Feb. 9.

  • Sriracha rubs against the fence while walking around her enclosure at the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo on Feb. 9. Hawaii County Parks and Recreation will be replacing the fencing while the zoo is under construction. (Photos by Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald)

  • Zoo director Pam Mizuno greets the tigers, Sriracha and Tzatziki, while walking around the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo on Feb. 9. Hawaii County Parks and Recreation will be replacing the tigers’ fencing while the zoo is under construction. (Photos by Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald)

After construction delays, the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo has pushed its reopening date to the end of May.

The Hilo zoo, which closed in 2020 because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, has been undergoing a nearly $9 million renovation to help bring the parts of the park into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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”We want to open the zoo when the majority of exhibits are able to open to the public,” said county Parks and Recreation Director Maurice Messina. “Right now, we’re looking at our projects being mostly complete and opening the zoo by the end of May.”

The zoo was initially expected to reopen in December, but that goal couldn’t be met due to complications involving the pandemic and inclement weather.

“There is a lot of concrete and asphalt work that can’t be done when it’s raining,” Messina said. “It’s a big project with a lot of people working at the same time, but work is progressing well.”

While construction is ongoing, Parks and Recreation also will be replacing and repairing the fencing around the tigers’ enclosure.

Sriracha, an orange female tiger, and Tzatziki, a male white tiger, are popular with zoo patrons and enjoy rubbing up against the fence.

“We wanted to take the opportunity to repair one of the most popular areas of the zoo,” Messina said. “By the end of May, we should be able to open most areas safely for everyone.”

One project that has been completed is the construction of the ‘alala exhibit, donated by the Friends of the Panaewa Zoo, a nonprofit organization that assists in providing for special zoo needs.

The birds, which were declared extinct in the wild in 2002, have gradually been reintroduced to forests in groups since 2017.

Last October, it was announced that in response to recent ‘alala deaths, including predation of the birds, conservationists are bringing the remaining ‘alala back from the wild into the conservation breeding program at Keauhou Bird Conservation Center.

‘Alala have been preserved only at the KBCC and Maui Bird Conservation Centers, which are managed by San Diego Zoo Global.

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The Panaewa zoo is set to receive two male ‘alala from San Diego Zoo Global.

Email Kelsey Walling at kwalling@hawaiitribune-herald.com

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