Animals get new home: 3 Palms Zoo moves to larger, better location

3 Palms Zoo and Education Center co-owner Matthew Shaffner feeds llama Twin at mid-morning Thursday. Delaware State News/Craig Anderson

TOWNSEND — They’ve accepted the spacious new habitat well, all things considered.

Pigs — Miniature, Guinea and regular sized — have a new home, along with their flying squirrel and peacock neighbors.

Joining them are ducks, giant tortoises, llamas, pheasants, sheep, snakes, chickens, goats, an emu and more.

A donkey is penned up with owl, turkey vulture, rabbit, fox, pelican, skunk, alpaca and coyote animals populating the new six-acre spread.

“They sense they’re still with us and that helps,” 3 Palms Zoo and Educational Center co-owner Dan Stonebraker said after recently moving operations to a nearby property.

“We’ve had custody of some critters for 14 years now and that bond remains.

“The nice news is that the enclosures are nicer and the pastures are larger. I think they know that.”

There’s one grumpy raccoon on the premises, however.

“She knows she’s home and is slowly coming around,” Mr. Stonebraker said this week. “She sees our familiar faces too. When people start visiting the zoo again she should be settled in.”

The move to 1060 Vandyke Greenspring Road greatly expands the rural zoo site — previously an acre plus parking — including a half acre pond. It also lessens extreme weather dangers that affected the former 924 Blackbird Forest Road site less than a mile away.

Following a move, waterfowl have a half-acre pond to enjoy at 3 Palms Zoo and Education Center.

Occasional micro-bursts shook the forest around 3 Palms, and winters were taxing as well.

“The primary reason was the safety of the animals due to the grounds themselves,” Mr. Stonebraker said. “Tree limbs would fracture with any significant thunderstorm, high winds and snowstorms.

“That can be stressful on humans but the animals simply aren’t secure and safe during those times.”

The facility closed on June 17 and is targeted to reopen by the second week of August. Previously scheduled summer youth camps visited the grounds, but that’s been it.

At midweek only two American alligators — 6 and 4.5 feet long — remained at the former spot awaiting proper enclosures, and Mr. Stonebraker and co-owner Matthew Shaffner were eagerly awaiting Delmarva Power to install electricity.

The rescue center/zoo has a Townsend address, is about six miles north of Smyrna and Clayton, 10 miles south of Middletown.

‘Extremely valuable’

“Over the years, the staff at 3 Palms Zoo has been dedicated to assisting the Department of Agriculture with re-homing exotic and domestic animals,” said Deputy State Veterinarian Dr. Karen Lopez. “In some cases, when an animal has no other place to go, 3 Palms has re-homed these animals to their own facility to use for educational purposes.

“This is extremely valuable in allowing the public to view these beautiful animals, but also to understand that not every exotic makes a great family pet.”

Hidden by a 50-acre cornfield and down a roughly mile-long dirt pathway, a roadside sign points to the nearby menagerie.

A donkey, pygmy goat and chickens co-exist as neighbors at recently-relocated 3 Palms Zoo and Education Center.

“It cuts down on the sound from the road due to the nice buffer it gives us and adds to the sense of security,” Mr. Stonebraker said.

When 3 Palms re-opens next month, 100 or more visitors are expected on peak attendance Saturdays. Mr. Shaffner and Mr. Stonebraker travel to private parties — $300 for two hours — as well.

“Everyone loves the llamas but not everyone loves the geese or pigs, they all have their favorites,” Mr. Shaffner said.

The cow-owners were assisted by volunteers, including Girl Scouts and a Heart Work camp whose six members worked from dawn to sundown five straight days.

Troop 458 Girl Scouts from the Middletown-Odessa-Townsend area landscaped around two entrance signs, researching perennial, low maintenance plants safe for animals roaming the grounds. The project was titles “Rooting for 3 Palm Zoo.”

For its “3 Palms Zoo — Fix it Up!” project Troop 751 (also from M.O.T.) cleaned small animal cages, collected blankets and towels along with gathered food donations for the animals from local businesses. Also, the troop gathered building materials for a new reptile enclosure.

“We’ve had lots of family members and friends and good hearted members of the public helping out,” Mr. Stonebraker said. “Simply put, it’s been incredible.”

More information is available on the 3 Palms Facebook page and web site, and the co-owners can be reached at 715-1326 or

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