Henry Vilas Zoo – Something for Everyone

–submitted by Kevin Hoffman; photo by Mike Engelberger

Alison PrangeFellow Downtown Rotary member Alison Prange, Executive Director of the Friends of Henry Vilas Zoo since 2013, gave an energetic and passionate presentation on June 17 about the Zoo and its many programs, and the Zoo Travel Program that went to Tanzania in 2014.

The Zoo was founded in 1911 after a land grant was made by the Vilas family with the stipulation that the zoo charge no admission fee.  It remains a free zoo today – one of 10 in the country that is accredited by the AZA.  In 2014 it had over 725,000 guests that came from Dane County and all the surrounding states making it one of the top attractions in the area.

She hastened to point out that although the Zoo is free it is not free to operate and has a budget of $2,600,000.  There are three main sources of support:  Dane County provides $1,400,000, the City of Madison provides $350,000, and the Friends of Henry Vilas Zoo raise $850,000 through on-grounds revenue such as food and gift shop sales, special events, education programs, memberships, and fund raising.

On Memorial Day weekend the new Arctic Passage exhibit opened with over 3,600 visitors.  The exhibit is the new home for polar bears, grizzly bears, and harbor seals and features underwater viewing for an interactive and engaging experience for both humans and animals.  It also features the Glacier Grill with a dining area that looks onto the polar bear exhibit.

Alison reminded us of upcoming events that help support the Zoo.  On July 17 is a concert featuring the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the 10th annual Zoo Run Run 5k and 10k race, and Halloween at the Zoo – a fun and safe way to spend Halloween with the kids.

The Zoo Travel Program in 2014 was a safari to Tanzania to learn about and understand wildlife in its natural habitat.  The goal of this program is to learn about animal conservation efforts and needs, instead of acquisition.  The travel group was immersed in the habitat of wild animals and were required to be in a vehicle or escorted by trained guides when moving around at night!

The group visited Tarangire National Park, Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater, the Masai tribe, Olduvai Gorge, and the Serengeti.  They saw (among many other animals) elephant, ostrich, giraffe, lions (including witnessing a group of female lions hunt zebra), flamingo, hippopotamus, wildebeest, cheetah, leopard, and the rare black rhinoceros (only 14 left).  It was the experience of a lifetime!

The next program, Great Wildebeest Migration in Tanzania, is scheduled for February 2016.

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