Veterinarians at Henry Vilas Zoo may soon be able to send digital x-rays of injured animals to medical experts across the country without ever leaving the premises, thanks to a proposed Animal Health Center (PDF).
The Madison Urban Design Commission granted final approval for the project Wednesday night, with many members of the committee enthusiastic about the proposal, according to Al Martin, who staffs the panel.
The project is currently halfway to its fundraising goal of $1.8 million after a Merrill Lynch-sponsored fundraising event in May, according to zoo director Ronda Schwetz.
Dr. Mike Petersen, the zoo's head veterinarian, is excited about the opportunities the building will present. "It's just going to open up a whole new network for us," he says.
In the past, injured zoo animals have been taken to the University of Wisconsin veterinary clinic or to Petersen's own clinic in Stoughton. The new building will allow zoo vets to perform surgery and other treatments onsite and provide a safe recovery space as well.
The new center will "be much safer and better for the animal[s] all the way around," says Petersen. "Madison is a great medical community, we've got some of the best hospitals in the country right here in Madison, and we want to do something for our animals that's real similar to this: just have a top-of-the line, state-of-the-art facility."
Zoo visitors will have the chance to watch surgical procedures as they are performed, which Schwetz hopes will help visitors "get an understanding of how we take really great care of our animals."
The zoo will also create videos of surgeries that will be shown in a new educational space, funded by a $150,000 grant from the Madison Community Foundation. "Even if we aren't doing a procedure at that particular time, people can ... [look] at procedures that we've done in the past to get a real feel for what a zoo vet does," Petersen says.
Classes for tour groups and children on such topics as "What does a zoo vet do?" and "What do modern zoos do to care for their animals?" will also be held in the new education space.
There has been discussion about the need for an animal health center at the zoo for "several years," but plans really began to develop over the last two, says Petersen.
Schwetz does not anticipate having to hire any extra staff for the 5,900-square-foot center. "It's just basically taking the staff that we have and the people that we work with and really locating them in one particular place versus being all across the grounds," she says.