Panaewa Rainforest Zoo & Gardens

One of the most popular Hilo attractions is the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens, the only natural rain forest zoo facility in the United States. This Big Island zoo consists of twelve acres of beautiful landscaped and wild gardens, and it is home to more than 80 animal species. Notable among the species represented is the endangered nene, or Hawaiian goose, the state bird of Hawaii. Namaste, a rare white Bengal tiger, is also one of the zoo residents. In addition to its rain forest environment, the zoo is unusual in a state that has very strict regulations regarding the enclosure of wild animals. Thus, you can be assured the zoo's residents all have the maximum amount of space in which to roam.

Rivaling many of the Big Island botanical gardens, this rain forest zoo in Hawaii boasts more than 100 varieties of palms and an extensive collection of orchids, clumping bamboos, and tropical rhododendrons. One of the things to do at the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo is stroll through the gardens, which also have pools and lagoons filled with exotic water lilies, torch ginger, and the amazing Corpse Flower with blossoms reaching as high as twelve feet and smelling (delightfully, to some) of rotting flesh.

The Big Island zoo mammals range from the South American giant anteater and sloth to the binturong (bearcat) and water buffalo from Asia. There are also feral goats and pua (feral pigs) that originally came from Asia but became wild and indigenous to Hawaii. Everyone delights in the antics of the resident monkeys and lemurs. Among the birds at this rain forest zoo in Hawaii is a wide range of colorful parrots, pheasants, macaws, and toucans—as well as the beautiful crowned crane that roams the pastures and savannas of the Serengeti in East Africa. The endangered nene is endemic, meaning it occurs exclusively, to the islands of Maui and the Big Island of Hawaii.

Special events happen at the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo on a regular basis. If you're deciding when to go, the tiger feeding occurs at 3:30 every afternoon. You can watch Namaste chow down on ten pounds of meat and three whole chickens. The petting zoo is popular for families and gives the children opportunities to touch a baby zebu (Asian tropical cattle), a llama, a pot-bellied pig, a mongoose, and many other animals. The petting zoo is open every Saturday from 1:30 to 2:30 in the afternoon. There are picnic facilities here, and admission is free. The Panaewa Rain Forest Zoo in Hawaii is open daily except on Christmas and New Year's Day. Next door is an equestrian center where you can watch paniolo cowboy rodeos.

The Panaewa Big Island Zoo is a good destination to spend a few hours during other sightseeing in the Hilo area. It is small in size compared to most big city zoos, and a couple of hours are all that's necessary to view the animals. It is located on Route 11, about two miles south of the airport. You can make a stop here as you head south to Volcanoes National Park or Naalehu, the southernmost city in the United States.

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