Pittsburgh Zoo unveils center to aid ailing animals

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The Animal Care Center, the newest addition to the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, opened its doors to the zoo's sick and injured animals Tuesday. The medical area of the building will be closed to visitors, but zoo officials announced that a public interactive learning area is in the works and set to open in 2013.

The two-story, 22,000-square-foot care center has a hospital on the basement level, including digital radiology and ultrasound equipment; new technology that allows pictures to be emailed to other veterinarians for a better diagnosis; a pool for aquatic animals; a hydraulic table for procedures to better handle larger animals; and individual holding cages with controlled temperatures and access to outside areas.

Located in the service quarter area of the zoo -- a "behind-the-scenes place," said zoo spokeswoman Tracy Gray -- the basement level won't be open to the public because of the animals' conditions. The learning center, however, will be located on the building's first floor. This part of the center wants to engage adults and children with veterinarian techniques and will be a "hands-on experience," Ms. Gray said. Potential activities and exhibits include listening to a gorilla's heartbeat or seeing a polar bear getting its teeth cleaned.

Pittsburgh Zoo unveils new animal care center

The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium has opened a new animal car center. The new two-story facility features a large treatment suite. (Video by Nate Guidry; 5/15/2012)

The care center aims to be the "next step with animal care and conservation," said Beverlynn Elliott, the zoo board's chairwoman.

Zoo officials held an opening event complete with Jamaican drum music and tropical-themed refreshments -- attended by about 30 donors, board members and other affiliates with the project -- to showcase the building.

After being welcomed by a dancing trio of stilt walkers dressed as zoo animals, invited guests got a sneak peek of the center's facilities.

Ms. Elliott said these new additions were "a long time coming." The center cost $6 million and contains seven holding cages in addition to the aquatic area. The hospital also is equipped with an intensive-care facility and a loading dock that can accommodate a full-sized van to deliver animals. The old system forced animals to be placed outside before entering the building because there was had no space for vans. With this new addition, you "don't lose your monkey in the parking lot," joked Barbara Baker, zoo president and CEO.

Many of the center's additions were based on collaborations with other zoos in the country. The bigger loading dock, for example, was an "idea stolen from a zoo in Detroit," said Ginger Takle, veterinarian and director of animal health.

The Animal Care Center was built to accommodate the zoo's growth in recent years and the different needs of the various animals. "The zoo has grown over the past 20 years ??? to 4,000 animals," Ms. Baker said. When the zoo's original hospital first opened in the 1990s, it was only 1,400 square feet and cared for a couple of hundred animals.

Because it could not keep up with capacity, zoo veterinarians had to split animals between the hospital and a separate, on-site holding area. Zoo officials decided to turn it into a conservatory in preparation for the newly opened center.

Despite the growing number and variety of animals, the zoo will maintain the same number of veterinarians. Ms. Gray said that the three veterinarians on staff will be doing the same job, just in a bigger space.

Ms. Takle explained that the zoo has already reserved some of the cages for incoming animals transported from other zoos. neigh_city

Emily Dobler: edobler@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3873. First Published May 16, 2012 4:00 AM


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