Panaewa Zoo and Gardens has been backed by the Friends of the Panaewa Zoo (FOZ) since 1981 when the nonprofit organization was formed to assist the zoo in providing the best lives for all the resident animals that call the zoo home. The zoo is open daily, rain or shine, except for Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Situated among 12 acres in the Panaewa Forest, this special zoo houses nearly 200 animals and receives about 125 inches of rain annually, which helps them sustain an optimal environment for their animal habitats. The zoo was transformed into a multifaceted botanical garden in an effort to complement the unique animal collection. It was their commitment to growing a botanical garden that earned the zoo a reclassification by the Hawaii County Council, renaming it the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo & Gardens in 2006.
The overall purpose of the zoo at the present time is to serve as an educational and recreational facility for both locals and visitors alike, featuring exhibits that blend into existing terrain and vegetation. There is a major emphasis placed on native fauna and flora along with the rainforest animals. Of all the zoos located across the nation, in all 50 states, the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo holds the unique distinction of being the only one located in a tropical rainforest.
In addition to the beauty of the foliage within the park design, the zoo also is home to several interesting animal inhabitants. This includes monkeys, tigers, tropical birds, snakes, lemurs, and more. Zoo guests are encouraged to “adopt an animal” when they visit as part of the FOZ fund project. The adopters will be given a certificate of adoption signifying that their donations are helping to take care of a specific animal. Donated funds go toward purchasing enrichment toys, dietary supplements, and meeting other needs the animal might have.
There are two main FOZ events each year that are designed to benefit the zoo. These events are the annual Plant Sale and the Tiger Fun Day. The Plant Sale takes place in late April or early May and is usually hosted the Sunday before Mother’s Day. Plant vendors come and sell their specialty plants and provide proceeds back into the zoo.
The Tiger Fun Day typically takes place near the end of June but can sometimes be pushed to early July. Each Tiger Fun Day is designated as a way to celebrate the arrival of the zoo’s two resident tigers, Sriracha and Tzatziki. The FOZ provides entertainment, food, and games for families to enjoy while on zoo grounds and of course includes some special treats for the tigers to enjoy.
Those who wish to help the zoo can also purchase a bench, where they will have a plaque displayed signifying this donation within the zoo grounds. The zoo gift shop proceeds also help to fund the everyday operations of the zoo and the upkeep of every animal and habitat.
In addition to enjoying the zoo animals and the beautiful foliage that is surrounding the area, guests can also enjoy the pavilions at the zoo, which can be rented out for special events. This makes an ideal location for a party or get-together at this special location.
The gift shop, in addition to offering some neat animal souvenirs and other goodies you would expect to see, also sells rain gear (just in case) frozen treats, beverages, and snacks to get you through your visit. Guests can also rent strollers in the gift shop, which is located conveniently at the entrance of the zoo from 9 to 4 daily.
Panaewa Rainforest Zoo offers scooter rental for those with mobility issues. Guests should reserve a scooter at least 48 hours in advance to ensure they have one available at the time of their visit. All scooters are set at slow speed and can be moved about on all paved walkways, they are not allowed off paved areas.