Just down the road from former Clayton spot.

Matt Shaffner and Dan Stonebraker’s 3 Palms Zoo is moving to bigger and better digs.

They opened near Clayton about 12 years ago on Blackbird Forest Road, but were forced to relocate when trees on the property starting falling due to storm damage. In November 2018, a particularly bad storm rocked the zoo.

“We had four trees completely lay over the fox enclosure. Thank God they didn’t just run. They were all scared to death and stayed in their habitat. That was breaking point – it was dangerous,” Stonebraker said.

Fortunately, Shaffner’s family owns a swath of land nearby. They were able to find some high ground, free of trees, on which to start over. Even though it’s not even a half-mile away from the original, the new 3 Palms has a Townsend address, at 1060 Vandyke Greenspring Road.

Focus on rescuing animals

3 Palms isn’t your typical zoo.

“It was a private animal rescue that just sort of escalated to what it is today,” Stonebraker said.

Unlike most animal rescues, 3 Palms focuses on agricultural animals, rather than dogs and cats. Both Stonebraker and Shaffner grew up on farms, where helping wayward animals was the norm.

They aren’t strictly an agricultural animal zoo, however. 3 Palms takes in abandoned exotic (legal or illegal) pets, including rabbits, guinea pigs, snakes, alligators, foxes, a wolf, parrots, owls and chickens. They also take in wild animals that have injuries or disabilities that prevent them from surviving in the wild.

“We don’t do wildlife rehabilitation, like where you raise rabbits, squirrels and release them. We do rehabilitation with abandoned exotic, agricultural animals. Nonnative species,” Stonebraker said. “But we don’t release wildlife. The wildlife we facilitate here are animals that could not be released, because they’ve been through a wildlife rehabilitator and habituated, are imprinted to humans, lack survival instincts or are permanently disabled. They have good quality of life, are comfortable in captivity, but wouldn’t survive in the wild.”

According to Stonebraker, 3 Palms is the only place in Delaware that can permanently house non-releasable mammals.

It takes a village

When 3 Palms first opened to the public, they had about 100 animals. Today, they have about 400. That’s counting about 77 geese, 65 ducks and over 30 turtles.

They require a lot of food, fencing and cleaning.

“They eat better than I do,” said Stonebraker.

The Smyrna community – and beyond – has been more than happy to help. Much of the animal food is donated. You can call Southern States or Route 300 Pet Supplies, both in Clayton, and buy a bale of hay or alfalfa to donate yourself. Much of what the carnivores eat is donated by hunters.

A visitor favorite is to buy cracked corn from quarter machines to feed the birds.

Some enclosure materials were recycled from the old location, but most of it is new. Many materials were donated, others bought in part with funds raised by the community.

Four Peaks Professional Tattooing in Milford held a fundraising day that took in $1,200, and the nonprofit Coalition for Animal Rescue and Education held a 5k that raised $5,000. Multiple Girl Scout troops have volunteered for projects like picnic tables, landscaping and a new reptile house.

The zoo itself makes a little money on admission fees and T-shirt sales and by hosting gatherings like children’s parties and weddings. Stonebraker and Shaffner also make themselves available to take some of the animals out for educational purposes.

Reopening plans

They haven’t nailed down an exact date for the zoo to reopen. A lot left to do is dependent on weather and volunteer availability, but they expect to open in about a month.

“We’re still working on perimeter fencing, the alligator habitat. We have three more apiaries to do, the interior of reptile building. We’re waiting for them to run electricity out here,” Stonebraker said.

Stay tuned to the 3 Palms Facebook page for updates. If you’re interested in donating, visit 3palmszoo.org.