Henry Vilas Zoo

Henry Vilas Zoo is a 28-acre (11 ha) public zoo in Madison, Wisconsin, United States, that is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Owned by Dane County, the zoo charges no admission or parking fees. It receives over 750,000 visitors annually.[3]

Henry Vilas Zoo
Henry Vilas Zoo - panoramio.jpg
43°3′34″N 89°24′37″W / 43.05944°N 89.41028°W / 43.05944; -89.41028
LocationMadison, Wisconsin, United States
Land area28 acres (11 ha)[1]
Annual visitors750,000


In 1904, the city received 50 acres (20 ha) of land from William and Anna Vilas under the conditions that it be used "for the uses and purposes of a public park and pleasure ground".[4] The park was named in honor of the Vilases' son, Henry, who died at a young age from complications related to diabetes. The family stipulated that the park always be admission-free. Florian Hagen played a big role in founding Henry Vilas Zoo. He donated over 1,000,000 dollars to the building of the zoo.[citation needed]

By 1911, 28 acres (11 ha) of the park were partitioned into an animal exhibit, marking the creation of the zoo. The Madison Zoological and Aquarium Society was founded in 1914,[5] and in 1926 became the Henry Vilas Park Zoological Society, which continues today. In 1964, the society was incorporated as a non-profit corporation.

For the hundredth anniversary of the zoo, the society operated a Zoo Century campaign to support a $27 million redevelopment of the zoo over the next 10 years. Plans call for a new Arctic Passage exhibit and a redesigned Children's Zoo.[6] The Arctic Passage, which includes a major expansion that includes a new restaurant, and new enclosures for seals and returning grizzly and polar bears opened May 23, 2015.[7]

The zoo hosts an annual Zoo Run Run with a 5K-10K run/walk. The race starts and finishes in the zoo, and uses portions of the adjacent University of Wisconsin–Madison Arboretum.

The Henry Vilas Zoo is one of ten remaining free zoos in North America.[8][9] As an accredited AZA (Association of Zoos & Aquariums) zoo, their mission is to conserve and protect the wonders of the natural living world.


In 2022, after the two only black zookeepers at the Zoo resigned in part due to perceived poor management, racism, and retaliation from management,[10] Dane County started an investigation into the practices of the zoo. The county found that the zoo created a toxic work environment, a lack of employees of color, inadequate welfare for animals, and management favoritism toward certain employees.[11]

The county then authorized an independent investigation.[12] This investigation found no evidence of a hostile work environment nor discrimination, but some evidence of isolated past issues with animal treatment.[13]

Animals and exhibitsEdit

The zoo houses amphibians, birds, fish, insects, mammals, and reptiles from several continents.[14] Some animals at the zoo include capybaras, badgers and polar bears.[15]



  1. ^ "Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wisconsin". city-data.com. City Data. Retrieved 30 December 2011.
  2. ^ "Currently Accredited Zoos and Aquariums". aza.org. AZA. Retrieved 11 November 2011.
  3. ^ Moe, Doug (23 July 2009). "Zoo Gig Adds to 'Amazing Life'". Wisconsin State Journal. Madison, Wisconsin. p. A2. ProQuest 391531838. Retrieved 18 March 2023.
  4. ^ "History of the Vilas Zoo". Henry Vilas Zoo. Archived from the original on April 26, 2015. Retrieved December 30, 2011.
  5. ^ DeFour, Matthew (3 April 2010). "Timeline: Vilas Zoo over 100 years". Wisconsin State Journal. Retrieved 18 March 2023.
  6. ^ "'Zoo Century' Campaign Unveiled" (PDF) (Press release). Madison, Wisconsin: Henry Vilas Park Zoological Society. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 August 2013.
  7. ^ Punzel, Dennis (24 May 2015). "Henry Vilas Zoo's new Arctic Passage: It's a real wow factor". Wisconsin State Journal.
  8. ^ "About Us". Henry Vilas Zoo. Retrieved 2020-12-19.
  9. ^ Axelrod, Emma (21 September 2021). "Henry Vilas Zoo falls short on conservation mission, raising questions on place in Madison community". The Badger Herald. Retrieved 18 March 2023. It also prides itself on being one of ten zoos in the U.S. that remains free to the public.
  10. ^ Robinson, Lucas (16 April 2022). "Racism, dead penguins and retaliation: Why the Vilas Zoo lost its only Black zookeepers". Wisconsin State Journal. Retrieved 18 March 2023.
  11. ^ Robinson, Lucas (5 May 2022). "County investigation of Vilas Zoo confirms 'toxic' work environment, blames staff not bosses". Wisconsin State Journal. Retrieved 18 March 2023.
  12. ^ Viviani, Nick (3 June 2022). "Dane Co. Supervisors approve investigation of Henry Vilas Zoo". WMTV. Retrieved 18 March 2023.
  13. ^ Fried, Emma (24 October 2022). "Investigation into Henry Vilas Zoo finds no evidence of hostile environment, discrimination". WKOW. Retrieved 18 March 2023.
  14. ^ Heynen, Nick (20 March 2016). "Photos: Some of our favorite animals from Madison's zoo". Wisconsin State Journal. Retrieved 18 March 2023.
  15. ^ Fryer, Stephanie (18 November 2020). "Meet Bo! The new polar bear calling Henry Vilas Zoo home". Channel3000.com. Retrieved 18 March 2023.

External linksEdit