Story by Alan McNarie
Max the macaw not only speaks, he seems to know what he’s saying. The hand-raised Catalina macaw was donated to the Pana‘ewa Rainforest Zoo & Gardens when allergies forced his former owner to leave the Islands (though she still sends him Christmas cards).
“His owner used to feed him Oreo cookies, and he would open them up and eat the middle, just like a human kid,” says Pam Mizuno, the zoo’s director. Before the vet put Max on a diet, she’d hold up an Oreo and ask, “What’s this?” and Max would respond, “A cookie.”
Mizuno learned about Max’s unusual ability shortly after she began work at the zoo, which is nestled in the rainforest a few miles east of Hilo. One day Mizuno heard Max call out, “Come here.” When she didn’t respond, he shouted, “Come here!” Then “COME HERE!”
When Mizuno finally came, Max asked, “Well, how are you?”
Max is one of the stars at Pana‘ewa Rainforest Zoo & Gardens, Hawai‘i’s “other zoo.” True to its name, the twelve-acre zoo specializes in animals native to tropical rainforests around the world, including such rare and/or little-known creatures as Southeast Asian binturongs, Central American tropical variegated squirrels and Madagascar tomato frogs. The zoo isn’t large, but what it lacks in volume it more than makes up in personality.
Although it’s funded and managed by the County of Hawai‘i (which has kept its admission free, despite the budget crunch), this little zoo also runs on love. Volunteers assist the staff with “enrichment activities” for the animals, run the gift shop and serve as docents on guided tours. Local residents donated some of the cages and aviaries, and area plant societies have turned the grounds into a magnificent botanical garden, with dozens of varieties of bamboo, orchids, day lilies, vireya and 126 species of palm (one of the country’s finest collections). One walkway is lined with bromeliads supplied by the local Wal-Mart. The Hawai‘i Forestry Industry Association is currently helping the zoo to develop its new “Discovery Forest,” where visitors will follow a winding path through native and plantation forests and a native bird aviary.