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Panaewa Zoo’s Popular Tiger Namaste Dies

January 16, 2014, 2:04 PM HST (Updated January 16, 2014, 5:43 PM)
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Namaste, the white Bengal tiger that was by far the most popular inhabitant of the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens, died today.

County officials confirmed that the 15-year-old tiger was euthanized this morning.

Named after the traditional salutation on the Indian subcontinent where Bengal tigers are found, Namaste lived in a one-acre enclosure in the zoo located on the south side of Hilo.

Jason Armstrong, spokesman for the county Department of Parks and Recreation, said Namaste had hip dysplasia, and last year suffered a broken leg.

Zoo Director Pam Mizuno said those conditions and his advancing age affected his eating and his health in general.

A special diet that included rabbit and chicken helped him somewhat, but the decision was made this morning for him to be euthanized.

“He didn’t have the quality of life that he should have,” Mizuno said.

He was buried today in his enclosure. Mizuno said the spot will be marked with some form of a monument.

Namaste outlived all his siblings.

Mizuno said the big cat touched many lives. “He reigned here for 15 years,” she said.

Namaste was literally the face of the zoo, with his image prominent on the facility’s website.

Namaste was literally the face of the zoo, as this partial screenshot of the zoo's website shows.

Namaste was the face of the Panaewa Zoo, as this partial screenshot of the zoo’s website shows.

Namaste was about 8 months old when he was donated to the zoo in 1999 by Las Vegas magician Dirk Arthur.

Birthday parties for Namaste in September were all-day affairs featuring music by the county band, and free cake and ice cream for the hundreds of attendees.

So many people attended the parties that additional parking was required at the county’s equestrian center, with shuttles used to transport visitors.

The guest of honor usually received an “ice cake” consisting of frozen meat with bone “candles” and a turkey dinner. His gifts included a catnip-filled pillow.

Even his daily afternoon feedings were popular events.

Mizuno said the zoo has plans to obtain another tiger after making some renovations that will be required for a younger animal.

***Updated 3:13 p.m.***

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