Point Defiance dedicates new outdoor theater, animal hospital

Rain couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm of officials and members of the public in attendance at Wednesday morning’s dedication of Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium’s two newest facilities – the Wild Wonders Outdoor Theater and animal hospital.

Those on hand gathered under the covered roof of the theater to hear remarks from excited officials.

“This day has been a long time coming for all of us,” said staff biologist Karen Povey, who serves as the education advisor for the Clouded Leopard Species Survival Plan administered by the American Zoo & Aquarium Association. (Two rare clouded leopard cubs were born at the zoo in April.)

Ross Hjelseth, president of the Metro Parks Tacoma Board of Commissioners, agreed: “There have been thousands of hours poured into these projects.”
He called Wednesday’s dedication the culmination of a lot of hard work by many people.

“The citizens are really going to enjoy this,” he said. “So, it’s the future we commemorate this morning.”

The $4.2 million amphitheater was designed by BCRA Tsang architects of Tacoma.

The project consists of an open-air theater with covered seating for 350 people and hillside seating for an additional 850 visitors, living quarters for the animals that will be featured in the Wild Wonders Outdoor Theater programs and a “rolling meadow” linking the theater to the new entry that will open next year.

The structure itself is a combination of rustic wood support structures and high-tech fiberglass/Teflon tension fabric roof, which came in handy during Wednesday’s downpour.

The new facility will offer the public the chance to get closer to the animals, said Dr. Karen Goodrowe, general curator of the zoo.

It will be the staging area for live animal presentations, as well as concerts and other events.

“What do we have in store for you?” she asked in reference to some of the “animal ambassadors” that will be part of live presentations at the theater.

Some of the creatures that will be seen when programs start in May include a boa constrictor, a porcupine, an aardvark and a possum, she explained.
“We want to link people with nature,” she said, in order to inspire them and inform them about conservation efforts. “That’s what this is all about.”

“I’m so proud to be part of this facility,” she said.

The $4.3 million hospital will dramatically improve the zoo’s ability to quickly deliver diagnostic and therapeutic services to resident animals.

The hospital will be fully equipped with state-of-the-art medical gear that will serve animals ranging in size from small birds to 900-pound polar bears.

In fact, the first procedure scheduled to be performed at the new facility will be five root canals on Boris the polar bear, said chief veterinarian Holly Reed.

“It is more than state of the art,” she said of the environmentally friendly building that was designed by Boxwood Architects of Seattle. “What we’re going to now is cutting edge.”

The animal hospital features a “living roof” to catch and filter rainwater before directing it into a cistern, recycled building materials, solar panels that will power water heating and other so-called “green” features.

The new facility is quite a step up from the two-and-a-half room animal holding facility that previously served as the zoo’s hospital, Reed said.

The new hospital has treatment rooms, a surgical suite, laboratory and diagnostic facilities, an observation area for tour groups, animal quarantine and holding areas, administrative spaces, a commissary and storage.

In addition to the more sophisticated equipment, the hospital is situated much closer to the animal exhibits, reducing the time and distance required for transporting animals for care.

Both projects are part of a major zoo expansion and renovation made possible by a $35 million bond issue approved by Tacoma voters in 1999.

Other projects include the Asian Forest Sanctuary Exhibit featuring a variety of animals, including tigers, tapirs, gibbons and more; an expanded cafe; a new entry and education center; and a children’s zoo.

All projects are expected to be completed by 2005, when Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium will celebrate its 100th anniversary.

“The zoo is blossoming,” Reed observed.