This Hospital's A Zoo

Mar 15, 2016

Iowa's most exotic hospital is open for business in Des Moines and visitors will soon be able to watch surgeries and other procedures from a special viewing area. The story from Iowa Public Radio's Rick Fredericksen.

This sparking new facility resembles most any modern medical center; from the surgical suite to the laboratory and pharmacy. One big difference: this hospital is equipped with a tranquilizer gun and a shotgun cabinet just in case a patient goes rogue. Welcome to Blank Park Zoo, where Dr. June Olds is senior veterinarian.

Senior vet June Olds in the spacious surgical suite.
Credit Rick Fredericksen / Iowa Public Radio

"This surgery room is bigger than our entire hospital and surgery room combined used to be."

Olds says the $1.5 million facility will mean better care for nearly 800 animals and fewer trips to Iowa State University's School of Veterinary Medicine. It's also the first time the zoo has had an in-patient facility.

"We can hold an antelope or a dangerous animal probably up to the size of a snow leopard, probably most likely won't be able to handle a lion. Snow leopards, we feel it's escape proof."

A 20 year old Cattle Egret was the first patient, rolled in to the recovery area for treatment of a sinus infection. Geriatric care and preventative medicine will keep the staff busy, but trauma picks up during the breeding season according to Andrew Gall, the zoo's first full time vet.

ISU graduate Andrew Gall is the zoo's first full time vet.
Credit Rick Fredericksen / Iowa Public Radio

"You know it's normal between a breeding pair of animals to get a little rough with each other. It's all normal. Some of those times we intervene and whether or not we have to stitch something closed or clean something up, we feel like we have the necessities here to be able to intervene and do that instead of just saying, you know, it'll be fine, it will heal on its own."

The zoo's affiliation with Iowa State is stronger than ever; much of the new construction came through ISU funding. A new dormitory lets veterinary students, like Alex Mettleton, be on-call, within range of 200 species.

"We've got to do things with wallabies. We got to see the new Eland baby, so kind of like a deer, when he was born and did his entrance exam into the world I guess."

Overhead cameras are mounted in key treatment areas allowing veterinary classes to watch procedures live in Ames. Later this year, visitors can sign in for a behind-the-scenes hospital tour. Kevin Drees is Director of Animal Care.

The public will be able to watch procedures, like this dental visit for a tiger in 2012.
Credit Blank Park Zoo

"Especially you know this first season, it's brand new now. Maybe it will just be a couple days a week that it's available but it's sort of like you arrive and you kind of have that option of, oh, if I want to come back at 11:00 I can take the 20 minute tour to see the hospital."

Dr. June Olds says the biggest difference with human hospitals is the wide array of species that will be admitted here. Powerful and unpredictable patients are sedated, and just like just like people, annual physicals are recommended.

"We've tried to ramp up our preventative medicine program so we're not fighting fires all the time, we're not addressing those, just like you or I if we go to the doctor annually then the more likely to pick up on things before they become a crisis and that's what we want to do with this hospital and with the care we provide the animals."

For the first time since the original zoo opened 50 years ago, animals in the hospital will expand the exotic adventure for visitors, starting this summer. In Des Moines, I'm Rick Fredericksen, Iowa Public Radio News.