Panaewa Rainforest Zoo set to reopen on July 19

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Gene Villaruel marks a steel tube while working on the 'alala exhibit at the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo on Thursday.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Linda Cava feeds the lemurs, Tom and Harriet, while working at the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo on Thursday.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Local artist Charlene Lofgreen paints a frog on the side of the reptile house Thursday at the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo. The zoo will be reopening on July 19.

With construction projects coming to an end, the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo finally has a reopening date.

The Hilo zoo, which closed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has undergone a $10 million renovation to bring the park in compliance with standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act.


After nearly 16 months of closure, the zoo will reopen at 10 a.m. Monday, July 19.

An opening ceremony will be hosted by Hawaii County Parks and Recreation.

While the county originally planned to open the zoo last month, Parks and Recreation currently is replacing and repairing the fencing around the tiger enclosure.

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

“We wanted to open the zoo earlier, but our in-house fence crew is almost done with re-fencing the tiger exhibit,” said county Parks and Recreation Director Maurice Messina. “We didn’t want to open the zoo without one of our most popular attractions.”

Contractors are working on smaller projects still needed for the zoo to comply with ADA standards as well as finishing landscaping and other beautification efforts.

To bring more color to the zoo, local artist Charlene Lofgreen has painted murals on the zoo’s front entrance, reptile house and main pavilion.

Gene Villaruel, a retired senior volunteer, is helping to install lights in the new ‘alala exhibit, which will open to the public for the first time on July 19.

Once contractors are finished with the construction projects, Parks and Recreation and zoo employees will put in all the final touches needed to be ready for the first day.

“We want to commend our zoo staff for all the time and effort they’ve put into overseeing the construction projects while continuing to take care of the animals,” Messina said. “We’re looking forward to opening the zoo for our visitors, especially our keiki.”

After reopening, the zoo will operate from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. seven days a week.

Construction at the zoo is part of a project that will bring 15 more county parks into compliance with ADA standards.


According to Messina, after work at the zoo is complete, the county will tackle other parks in the countywide project.

Email Kelsey Walling at

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