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Building a Zoo Veterinary Hospital

Elmwood Park Zoo


Ever wonder what it takes to build a zoo vet hospital? Well, Adam Denish, VMD, of Elkins Park, Pennsylvania is making his dreams come true.  With some donors and select staff, Dr. Denish is bringing a project dear to his heart a reality.  He works at the Elmwood Park Zoo near Philadelphia where the zoo has outgrown the animal hospital and quarantine facilities.  Besides touring other zoo hospitals, Dr. Denish asked colleagues of AAZV to provide recommendations for plans, specifications, vendors, green initiatives and much more.  He received numerous responses and has shared the following experiences over the last 32 months.


Background Information

Dr Denish owns two small and exotic animal hospitals in the area. For the last 10 years, he has been the Director of Veterinary Medicine for the Elmwood Park Zoo. Though he has significant exotic and some zoo experience, it was an eye-opener for him to deal with boards, staff, docents, regime changes, etc.  The time he spent at the zoo increased every year as the collection and demands were increasing.  Not to mention the daily emails, texts, calls, and research that had to be done all on his own time.  Needless to say, he loves every minute of it.


The Story

The Elmwood Park Zoo is 16 acres and about 45 minutes away from the Philadelphia Zoo where he received some of his training.  The zoo traditionally has been a North/South/Central American Zoo with extremely limited funding and resources. Ten years ago, he was hired as the zoo vet one day a week but that is never enough.  The veterinary hospital consists of two rooms that are barely adequate for storage let alone procedure.

Other than the beauty of the zoo, he was intrigued by the ability to shape the future of the zoo.  The zoo had a 20 year master plan for 80 million dollars including a new zoo vet hospital. Within a year of his employment, it was decided that the plan was unattainable.  After 3 executive directors came and left, the hassles of funding and board involvement, a critical point in the zoo's life was reached.  Over a year ago, a new director took office and sure enough, his vision allowed the zoo to expand not only in revenue and attendance, but in community awareness and board support.

It was no longer just Dr. Denish's desire, but now with the backing of the staff and that of the curator and director. With AZA and USDA regulations more stringent regarding zoo hospital space and use, the need for a zoo hospital was even more pressing.  Elmwood Park Zoo is proud of its' accreditation and wants to be held to the same standards as respected institutions such as The Philadelphia Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Global.

An interested local vet who was a close friend of the zoo's board president made an inquiry into our animal care. After a tour where she assisted in a procedure, she decided that her next mission would be to help them build the hospital.  Every two weeks, she, the zoo vet technician and Dr. Denish met for many months.  At each meeting, they discussed and brainstormed about the project. They drew out multiple designs in anticipation of meeting with a designer/architect in the future.  A few months ago, a Powerpoint presentation was made to our zoo supervisors and the board where a positive reception was received. The zoo's goal is to garner internal support for this project before they go after potential donors and sponsors. For the past month, they have been meeting with architects and having property surveys done on the potential new ground.

Making this dream a reality 

The three of them still have a long way to go to make this project a reality.  Dr. Denish reached out to the AAZV community via a post and was amazed to receive 20 responses.  Each email response had unique details but all generally said the same thing - "we at XYZ zoo went through this before and we are willing to help in any way possible". Most gave private emails or phone numbers for him to contact them to receive project details, bullet points, drawings, and information.  He realizes that all recommendations can't be put into place but every offer of help will make this zoo hospital better for them and especially the animal collection.


Want more details?

You may contact Dr. Adam Denish at  Please be patient with his response because he is probably lifting bricks while bandaging a timber wolf.



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