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About the Henry Vilas Zoo

On June 30, 1904, Col. William and Anna Vilas gave a large tract of land to the Madison Park and Pleasure Drive Association "for the uses and purposes of a public park and pleasure ground." The park was named in memory of the Vilas' son, Henry, who died at a young age due to complications from diabetes. In 1911, the first animal exhibits were created, representing the start of the Henry Vilas Zoo. In what has proved to be a defining and truly visionary move, the Vilas family stipulated that the park always be admission free. As the zoo developed within the park, it too remained free thanks to community support.

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

Friends of Henry Vilas Zoo

Friends of Henry Vilas Zoo was founded in 1914 to provide funding for Henry Vilas Zoo.  Funds raised by Friends are used for improvements that are essential to the operations of our no-charge zoo including (but not limited to) support for zoo construction projects, assistance with conservation initiatives and animal acquisitions. This is realized through new exhibits like the Arctic Passage, support of zoo programs and improvement of the overall educational and recreational value of the zoo. The Henry Vilas Zoo depends on the support of its visitors, members and donors to remain open and free every day. 

Why Support the Zoo?

Last year, we welcomed almost 850,000 visitors from across the region. Your support enables the Friends of the Henry Vilas Zoo to ensure a best-in-class experience for our guests and our animals while remaining admission-free for everyone to enjoy.