Pittsburgh Zoo New Animal Care Center

 (Pittsburgh) (May 15, 2012)—Caring for animals big and small is a top priority at the Zoo, and to help handle the diversity of patients, the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium is opening a new Animal Care Center.

“We we are here today because of the wonderful and continuing support of our donors and sponsors,” says Dr. Baker. “Without them, this project would never have come to fruition.”

The Colcom Foundation, The Eden Hall Foundation, the Richard King Mellon Foundation, UPMC, and The Vet Tech Institute were key contributors to the new Animal Care Center. Financial assistance on this project also was provided by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Thomas W. Corbett, Governor.

“Our original animal hospital was 1,400 square feet and was built in the 1990s when we only had a couple hundred animals to care for,” says Dr. Barbara Baker, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium. “Now we care for nearly 4,000 animals, from fish to elephants.”

The new hospital is a two-story, 22,000-square-foot facility dedicated to animal health care. It features state-of-the-art medical equipment, including a large treatment suite with a hydraulic table so vet staff can position and move large animals easily before, during, and after a procedure. Adjacent to the treatment suite is a surgical suite and a diagnostic suite designed for special procedures such as ultrasounds, endoscopy, and digital radiology. There is also an intensive care suite with 24-hour monitoring. The pharmacy is strategically placed near the treatment suite so medications can be accessed quickly.         

In 2010, the vet staff, and the project design team went on a “vision quest” to other facilities to share plans and learn from other zoo animal health facilities. “Finding benchmarks and learning from our colleagues is very important,” says Dr. Baker. “It provides valuable information on what works and what doesn’t and how you might be able to change something to make it work for you.”

After evaluating all the information, the design team came together and mapped out their strategy. “One of the most important things for us was the design and straight-forward layout of the rooms for efficiency,” says Dr. Ginger Takle, director of animal health. “There is always a risk when prolonging an animal’s time under anesthesia, so I wanted to make sure that the treatment room was the center with direct access to rooms like radiology or surgery, if needed.”

The quarantine area for new animals arriving at the Zoo is seven rooms with outside access that enables the animals to transition to their new home comfortably while being monitored. Another unique feature is an aquatic animal holding area where both pool and air temperature can go from 45 to 85 degrees. “We can now treat polar and marine animals at the hospital rather than transporting all of our equipment to them,” says Dr. Takle. “This gives us many more options for providing the best possible care for our animals.”

Currently, the Animal Care Center will not be open to the public, but the second phase of the new facility will open in 2013. It includes an interactive Children’s Learning Center. There, children and adults can learn how veterinarians care for the animals and they can imagine they are veterinarians themselves. “Hearing a gorilla’s heartbeat or seeing a video of a polar bear getting his teeth cleaned can make a lasting impression on our visitors,” says Dr. Baker. “This kind of opportunity reinforces our role to educate about the conservation of all animals and the importance we place on maintaining the health of our animals here at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium.”