Salisbury Zoo will soon open animal health clinic

A new, still-to-be-named health clinic at the Salisbury Zoo, in the final stages of completion, will give veterinarians a modern space to care for the animals that are dear to the Salisbury community.

 “It should be open soon, at least on a limited basis,” Ralph Piland, zoo director, said about the 4,000-square-foot, $1.9 million building, on the west side of the zoo, near Ben’s Red Swings.

“There is still a punch list. Even after the contractors finish there are some items that have to be completed. We’re trying to stretch our budget as far as we can,” Piland said.

Funding was from the city, state and private donations.

“This is considered an industry standard, to have a dedicated health facility. It’s something the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, where we get our accreditation, has noticed as a need in their past inspections. It has encouraged the zoo for a long time to complete this,” Piland said. Planning and fund-raising began 10 years ago.

“The building doesn’t have a name yet, but if somebody would like to write us a check, we’ll be happy to name it after them,” Piland said, laughing.

Veterinarians including Dr. Doug Nolte, who has a practice in Salisbury, will work at the clinic, plus a full-time vet tech and consulting specialists from other zoos.

A few years ago, a bear needed dental surgery and it had to be done in the bear exhibit, because there was no clinic. A makeshift operating table was set up and the bad teeth were pulled, Piland said.

The clinic’s quarantine area will be used for animals new to the 60-year-old zoo. Usually animals are kept in quarantine 30 days before being mixed with the population.

“Right now we have a small facility in the Animal Services Building that can take birds and some small mammals for quarantine, but sometimes we have to create a make-do quarantine facility in other areas,” Piland explained.

The clinic also has areas for check-ups, x-rays, treatment, surgery and recovery.

For autopsies, there’s, “a dedicated necropsy room and segregated space for a post-mortem analysis,” Piland said. When an animal dies, as a 13-year-old wolf did a few weeks ago, details obtained post-mortem can offer new knowledge to caretakers.

Having a clinic means the zoo will meet industry standards. “It lets us meet or exceed the quality care given in institutions throughout the country. You think of a first-class zoo,” the director said.

Salisbury’s zoo is appreciated as an attractive and enjoyable community resource, and is one of only five zoos nationwide that are free.

“The zoo has a consistent reputation as being a quality small institution,” Piland said.

“When you look around the country there are fancier zoos, bigger zoos, but you don’t find a zoo very often that is as well-loved and supported by the community as this one is,” Piland said about the 13 and ½-acre zoo, founded in 1954.

“It’s a wonderful resource for the community,” he said. “It’s unique.”

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