Chemo for a cobra and other reasons the Denver Zoo is building a new animal hospital

If a lion gets surgery, we’ll be able to watch it.

The Denver Zoo holds a press conference as workers break ground on a new animal hospital on their campus, Feb. 7, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The Denver Zoo holds a press conference as workers break ground on a new animal hospital on their campus, Feb. 7, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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The Denver Zoo broke ground on a 22,000 square-foot animal hospital Thursday that will include fancy medical tech and transparent rooms where the public can view veterinarians treating frogs, monkeys, bears or any other resident of the City Park menagerie.

The new building will replace the old one with high-tech treatment rooms, surgery suites, diagnostic laboratories, two intensive care units — one dedicated to large animals — and a CT scanner. Construction should be done by spring 2020.

A good hospital is a big deal for zoos, especially when animals tend to arrive injured, not to mention the fact that they’re in captivity.

“You want the animals to be in the least amount of stress in what can arguably be a challenging situation for them,” said Bert Vescolani, the zoo’s president and CEO. “If they’re sick, or if there’s something going on, animals in their nature are meant to hide it as long as they possibly can. That’s how they want to do it in the wild, and so when we get them, sometimes they’re at a point where we really have to ramp up our care.”

Vets at the Denver zoo have already notched some medical victories of the years, thanks in part to earlier hospital renovations. They performed brain surgery on an orangutan after a 1982 renovation, have provided chemotherapy for a cobra, and in 1994 helped deliver two polar bear cubs named Klondike and Snow.

Denver Zoo President and CEO Bert Vescolani speaks as workers break ground on a new animal hospital on the zoo's campus, Feb. 7, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Denver Zoo President and CEO Bert Vescolani speaks as workers break ground, seen here on a live feed. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A rendering of the viewing area in the new hospital. (Denver Zoo)

A rendering of the viewing area in the new hospital. (Denver Zoo)

“We have made an effort to keep up this pace of veterinary medical technology within our current animal hospital, but now we need to enhance those facilities and optimize spaces, combined with state-of-the-industry tools for our animals’ well being for another 50 years,” Vescolani said.

Denver voters approved $20 million for zoo projects in 2017 through the city’s general obligation bond measure. That money will fund the new hospital.

Mayor Michael Hancock called the zoo “our most beloved cultural facility” Thursday and thanked voters for approving the bonds.

Mayor Michael Hancock introduces Denver Zoo President and CEO Bert Vescolani before workers break ground on a new animal hospital on the zoo's campus, Feb. 7, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Mayor Michael Hancock introduces Denver Zoo President and CEO Bert Vescolani. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

According to Denver lore, the zoo began in 1896 when someone gifted Mayor Thomas McMurry a bear cub named Billy. Because he did not have a place to keep it, McMurry gave it to the groundskeeper at City Park. He caged it and unknowingly started what we know today as the Denver Zoo.

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