Naples Zoo breaks ground for hospital to care for panthers, other animals
Doctors' visits for the Naples Zoo's furry, scaly and feathered residents will soon be a lot less cramped.
The nonprofit zoo held its groundbreaking ceremony Friday for a 7,500-square-foot, on-site animal hospital that will enable zoo staff to perform surgeries on campus, help care for injured or abandoned Florida panthers and provide additional shelter for zoo animals during hurricanes.
The $3.5 million project was funded almost entirely by donations and is expected to be completed later this year or early next year, said Jack Mulvena, president and CEO of the zoo.
The new facility — named the Glass Animal Hospital after lead donors Denny and Tanya Glass — will include a full surgical suite, hospitalization rooms, a necropsy examination room, diagnostic lab, pharmacy and holding areas to quarantine animals.
Instead of having to transport animals that need surgery elsewhere, vets will be able to perform the procedures on site, said Dr. Lizzy Arnett-Chinn, a staff veterinarian at the zoo.
"I am really excited that we will be able to have a dedicated space on property," Arnett-Chinn said. "Because you can imagine it can be stressful taking animals off site."
It also will mean veterinary work won't be confined anymore to a 10-by-15-foot metal shed where zoo animals now go for treatment.
"It's about the size of a one-car garage," Arnett-Chinn said, referring to the shed that staff jokingly have called "limbo" and "twister" due to the limited space.
"That's where all of our medicine is, where all of our equipment is. So once you actually get all of that in and then the animals and the people, it's very cramped."
The new animal hospital, which will be on a 1-acre lot in the northwest corner of the zoo, also will provide extra shelter for zoo animals during hurricanes.
"Regardless, we will have to probably crate up the animals, but we won't have to take them off site," Arnett-Chinn said.
"We can move them in and we will have some facilities that we'll be able to let them out of their crates and do what they need to do. It's just going to be a much better situation."
The animal hospital also will add to a network of facilities that can provide treatment and care for injured panthers, said David Shindle, panther coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
"The need to care for panthers that have to be removed from the wild, either temporarily or permanently, is going to be an increasing need in the future as the panther population increases," he said.
"We're on the tail end of a successful panther recovery effort, but we're not out of the woods yet."