Hilo resident Sandy Woodward took a stroll through Pana‘ewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens on Saturday morning before celebrating the life of Namaste, the beloved 15-year-old white Bengal tiger who was euthanized Jan. 16.
“He reminds me of my mom. When my mom was alive, we came at least once a month. She was a cat lover,” she said before approaching a shaded area near Namaste’s former home.
Woodward was the first of many to share stories of the prized zoo animal. More than 30 Hawaii County community members attended the memorial. Those present thanked Meka Kaiser for writing a letter to Stephens Media Hawaii announcing the impromptu service. Although the zoo intends to have a plaque made in Namaste’s honor, Kaiser said upon first hearing about his death, she just knew “she had to do something.”
“I had to. I had to,” she said while stepping in the center of the group. “He was just the best little furball.”
Shortly after Kaiser gave a few words, people openly shared their fondest memories of the big cat.
Donna Thomas, honorary member of the Friends of the Zoo, recalled when a few Las Vegas showgirls unexpectedly visited the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens.
“He went up to them and recognized them immediately. As it turns out, he used to walk across the stage with them when he was a little cub,” she said.
Another attendee commented, “I’m going to, really going to, miss that big kitten, that big pussycat. He was gentle. We all miss him and we all love him. Some people say animals ain’t got no soul, but they’re wrong.”
Terri Akine followed by reading a long letter aloud.
“Namaste posed for more pictures than any movie star in Hollywood,” she said before laughter erupted from the crowd.
Ron Phillips, an honorary member of Friends of the Zoo, said he remembered doing tricks with the tiger, and playing “hide-and-seek.”
“I’d say here little kitty, kitty, kitty,” he said. “And he’d come right up. He was such a smart animal.”
Debbie Anderson, a librarian at Waiakea Intermediate School, said Namaste “meant so much to the kids.”
Her son, Cormack Anderson, 8, wore an orange Namaste outfit and made a robot version of the tiger on his iPad for everyone to see.
The event ended with people putting leis around Namaste’s statue while a woman played a guitar and sang songs in his honor.
Before heading out for the day, Nina Bremer, member of the Board of Directors of Friends of the Zoo, said “He’ll always be with us in spirit.”
Email Megan Moseley at email@example.com.