Upgrades coming to Panaewa Rainforest Zoo

  • Work has started reducing a walkway near the tiger exhibit at the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo to a 5% grade to conform with the Americans with Disabilities Act. (Nancy Cook Lauer/West Hawaii Today)

  • Tzatziki, the white male Bengal tiger, checks out a reporter visiting the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo on Friday. (Nancy Cook Lauer/West Hawaii Today)

  • Sriracha, the female Bengal tiger, leans in for a closer look at a reporter visiting the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo on Friday. (Nancy Cook Lauer/West Hawaii Today)

  • Capuchin monkey Kiba smiles for the camera Friday at the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo. (Nancy Cook Lauer/West Hawaii Today)

  • James Komata, deputy director of the Department of Parks and Recreation, on Friday points out walkways at the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo that will be reduced to a 5% grade to conform with the Americans with Disabilities Act. (Nancy Cook Lauer/West Hawaii Today)

  • Tango, a former favorite at Panaewa Rainforest Zoo's petting zoo. (Nancy Cook Lauer/West Hawaii Today)

  • Work continues Friday on doubling the size of the gift shop at the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo. (Nancy Cook Lauer/West Hawaii Today)

  • A new exhibit has been erected to house two alala, or endangered Hawaiian crows. Funded by the Friends of the Panaewa Zoo, the exhibit will be the only one in the world. (Nancy Cook Lauer/West Hawaii Today)

Max the Catalina macaw is on break from his usual job of calling out to folks entering and leaving the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo. These days, he’s chatting with construction workers while the zoo undergoes a $9 million renovation to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The zoo has been closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. While other facilities for the county Department of Parks and Recreation are slowly reopening, the zoo will be closed until December, when it’s scheduled to reopen as work continues. The contractor, Stan’s Contracting, started May 11 and has until March 6 to complete the job.

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The building near Max’s exhibit was a beehive of activity Friday, as workers begin the process of doubling the size of the gift shop.

“Max talks to them,” zoo complex manager Pam Mizuno said, “and he’s got them talking back to him.”

Are the animals missing people during their lockdown?

“Some of them do and some of them don’t,” Mizuno said.

Many of the zoo’s residents were quick to come out to greet the few people they see. Zoo staff and volunteers have stepped up their visits to keep the animals company, and they usually come with treats.

Tzatziki, the white male Bengal tiger seems to miss people more than his companion Sriracha, the orange female, Mizuno said. But both tigers enjoy visitors and often follow them as they circle their expansive enclosure.

“Especially Tzatziki; he likes showing off,” she said.

On Friday morning, the tigers were still in their nighttime enclosure and they seemed happy to have company, making their friendly “chuff” sounds and rubbing their heads against the fencing, as if seeking a scratch between the ears.

More than half of the 12-acre zoo’s pathways are being repaved in order to bring them down to a 5% grade for accessibility. Handrails will be installed. Steps and observation areas near exhibits are being transformed to ramps, with lowered walls so people can see in.

Restrooms will be enlarged and made ADA compliant. Pavilions will be reworked and benches added near the playground for adults to rest while supervising their children.

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The transformation won’t make the zoo totally accessible from the parking lot to every exhibit, said James Komata, deputy director of the Department of Parks and Recreation. Instead, the upgrades will create pods of accessible groupings of exhibits, which can be reached with scooters or carts.

Another big plus for the zoo is the addition of a new exhibit for two alala, or endangered Hawaiian crows, that will be arriving. The exhibit was donated by the Friends of the Panaewa Zoo, and the addition of the non-breeding pair that can’t be rehabilitated to be released into the wild will create the only alala exhibit in the world, Mizuno said.

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