The reopening of Panaewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens has been delayed to early 2021.
The zoo, which closed earlier this year because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, has been undergoing a nearly $9 million renovation to help bring the public components of the park into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
It was initially expected to reopen in December, but county Parks and Recreation Deputy Director James Komata said Thursday the reopening will “probably be pushed back to Feb. 1.”
At that time, as much as possible of the zoo will reopen, while the remainder will stay closed as work continues in those areas.
Komata said the county is working with the contractor to “expedite work in portions of the zoo where it makes sense for us to reopen.”
All the work should be completed by the end of April, Komata said, but some portions of the zoo will reopen when they’re ready.
“A lot of small things, as we encounter unforeseen issues, cause delays,” he said.
The weather plays a part in constructionwork, said Komata, but he’s not sure if the pandemic itself has caused any delays.
According to Komata, renovations include providing ADA-accessible parking stalls and a route from the parking lot to the zoo entry, and modifying exhibits to make sure they’re accessible to people with disabilities.
Restrooms are being made to comply with ADA requirements, walkways are being regraded to meet slope requirements and the gift shop area is being expanded to ensure there’s sufficient room.
Motorized carts also will be provided upon request to help further improve access to those who need it.
“The zoo itself is very hilly, (with) a lot of ups and downs. … It’s impractical for us to make the entire circuit and walkway of the zoo fully compliant,” he said.
People can drive the carts to certain “pods,” then walk and access the different exhibits before returning to the cart and moving on to another area.
“Not every disability requires that kind of accommodation, (but) that was the approach we took to achieve compliance at the zoo.”
Komata said some modifications are happening at the “maintenance end of the zoo,” and minor facility repairs are also being done.
The project also includes work at the Panaewa Equestrian Center, part of the Panaewa Recreational Complex along with the zoo.
Work is being funded by the county.
According to Komata, the original contract was priced at $8.99 million, but the county has received $292,000 in change orders.
“From the department’s standpoint, we’re excited for this project,” he said. “We can’t wait to reopen the zoo and welcome everyone back to experience the animals and all the improvements that are being done. I think everyone will be happy with what the project delivers.”
Despite the months-long closure, zoo director Pam Mizuno said the animals are fine, and volunteers have been visiting more often than they used to.
“So the animals get more time, as far as getting out and getting enrichment and that kind of thing,” she said.
Tzatziki, a white male tiger, and Sriracha, his orange female companion, have enjoyed the ongoing construction.
“The tigers actually get their enrichment from, their enjoyment from, watching the construction workers,” Mizuno said.
One day, Mizuno said she passed by and saw Tzatziki walking back and forth. When she looked over, construction workers were sitting outside having lunch.
“He was very interested,” she said.
A sloth born in July 2019 will remain at the zoo for now, Mizuno said. The sloth had been on display before the closure but has since been separated from her mother, Mizuno said.
Meanwhile, an ‘alala exhibit, donated by the Friends of the Panaewa Zoo, a nonprofit organization that assists in providing for special zoo needs, also is nearing completion.
Mizuno is hopeful the final permits will come through in the next few weeks.
“I guess it’s even more critical now that there won’t be any more ‘alala in the wild any more,” she said.
The birds, which were declared extinct in the wild in 2002, have gradually been reintroduced to forests in groups since 2017.
However, it was announced Oct. 5 that in response to recent deaths, including predation of the birds — mostly by ‘io, the Hawaiian hawk — 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.
The Panaewa zoo is set to receive two male ‘alala — which are not going to be used in a recovery breeding program — from San Diego Zoo Global after the final permits for the aviary have been issued.
Email Stephanie Salmons at firstname.lastname@example.org.