Join our zoo community

Henry Vilas Zoo Henry Vilas Zoo discussion thread

Discussion in 'United States' started by ConcernedThirdParty, 18 May 2024.

  1. ConcernedThirdParty

    ConcernedThirdParty Active Member

    Joined:
    25 Apr 2024
    Posts:
    44
    Location:
    Wisconsin
    Henry Vilas Zoo Not News – History and Other Fantasies

    I am starting a thread to discuss: questions, controversies, memories, and other topics about the Henry Vilas Zoo that are not news or current events.

    I will be starting with a couple context pieces about issues that have been previously discussed, but never seem to have been fully resolved or answered.​
     
    EsserWarrior and StoppableSan like this.
  2. ConcernedThirdParty

    ConcernedThirdParty Active Member

    Joined:
    25 Apr 2024
    Posts:
    44
    Location:
    Wisconsin
    I have seen questions about the fate of Vilas’ prairie dogs asked in the ZooChat archives but not any complete answers. For anyone still wondering here is a synopsis:

    I am starting a thread to discuss: questions, controversies, memories, and other topics about the Henry Vilas Zoo that are not news or current events.

    I will be starting with a couple context pieces about issues that have been previously discussed, but never seem to have been fully resolved or answered.

    I have seen questions about the fate of Vilas’ prairie dogs asked in the ZooChat archives but not any complete answers. For anyone still wondering here is a synopsis.

    Vilas for decades had a self-sustaining prairie dog colony. They moved around over the years but most recently lived in the North American Prairie in a walled off portion of the bison yard (the wall has since been removed). They were long one of the zoo’s most popular attractions.

    The exhibit was designed to encourage natural behaviors including, burrowing and hibernating naturally. Tragedy struck during the winter of 2018-2019 however. This was an unusually cold winter and heavy rains the previous season had raised the water table significantly (The exhibit was only 100 yards from Lake Wingra).

    By May, of 2019 only one individual had emerged from hibernation. Fearing the worst at this point zoo staff dug up the exhibit and confirmed the others had frozen to death. The remaining individual was sent to the Oshner Park Zoo in Baraboo.

    The previous habitat was clearly no longer safe to use, and plans to rebuild elsewhere seem to have been quietly abandoned.

    Here are a couple of local news stories about it:

    Extreme weather kills nearly every prairie dog at Henry Vilas Zoo

    Only Vilas Zoo prairie dog to survive winter transferred to Baraboo zoo
     
    Last edited: 18 May 2024
    EsserWarrior and StoppableSan like this.
  3. ConcernedThirdParty

    ConcernedThirdParty Active Member

    Joined:
    25 Apr 2024
    Posts:
    44
    Location:
    Wisconsin
    I know the Wisconsin Heritage exhibit has been a controversial topic on this forum. Here are my thoughts on the exhibit, plus some context that I think has been missing:

    Live archives of the history of badgers at the Henry Vilas Zoo are incomplete and conflicting. The subject is brimming with multiple aspects of controversy, but here is the summary

    There is a printed but largely anecdotal story of the only ever badger to live at the state capitol being sent to live at the Vilas Zoo after it became unmanageable. A claimed birth year of 1908/1909 is given but not the date of the transfer.

    The longest claimed longevity record I could find for captive American Badgers is 26 years. Keep this in mind going forward.

    The zoo’s first “Bucky” badger was originally the live mascot for the UW Madison but was deemed uncontrollable and sent to live at the zoo. Date claims for this event range from the 1940s to the 1980s. The universities history pages lump this topic in with other mascot related events which definitely were not simultaneous.

    As recently as the early 2000s when Vilas’ old Children’s Zoo (A nightmare of animal husbandry) was shut down for rebuilding, I can personally confirm that signage on the badger “habitat” (using the word habitat loosely) still claimed it to be the same badger. Around the same time, construction on the current North American Prairie exhibit was underway including a new badger exhibit. This is still there but has been replanted and labeled as a National Wildlife Federation “Certified Wildlife Habitat”.

    When this new exhibit opened communications seemed to indicate this was still the same individual. The habitat was probably perfect for what was at that time a single and now apparently very geriatric badger.

    Several years later this Badger officially passed away. The zoo awaited availability of a replacement either from another facility or a wildlife rescue. The opportunity finally arrived in 2015 when two baby badgers were found orphaned after their mother was killed on a road. The zoo now had two young badgers and a habitat built to house a single very old badger. This brings us to Wisconsin Heritage.

    To say the exhibit was rushed is an understatement. It was conceived, funded, designed, and built to completion in less than a year. This is fast by any zoo’s standards but warp factor 5 by Vilas’ standards. Around this time an adult Sandhill Crane showed up at a local parking lot harassing people. and begging for food. Wildlife officials deemed it unreleasable and a decision was quickly made to add a crane exhibit alongside the badgers thus creating “Wisconsin Heritage”.

    The exhibit is the product of immediate, unexpected necessity; which seems to be a constant theme in the history of badgers at the Henry Vilas Zoo. The badger part at least, is much better than what it replaced and may in fact be the best in existence simply due to a lack of competition. The crane side on the other hand, has all the feeling of the afterthought it was. I would say that while “Wisconsin Heritage” is potentially impressive in the context of its rapid development, it is still not what it should be. While definitely Vilas’ most unique exhibit it is certainly not Vilas’ best.

    Some of the many sources of varying reliability:

    THE NEW CHILDREN'S ZOO NEWLY RENOVATED SECTION AT VILAS ZOO OPENS SUNDAY FEATURING A PLAY AREA AND ANIMAL EXHIBITS.

    Fresh burrows await badgers at Vilas Zoo as a new exhibit is planned

    https://exec.danecounty.gov/PressDetail/7100

    Zoo Exhibits & Attractions - Visit the Zoo - Henry Vilas Zoo

    https://fox47.com/news/local/newest-vilas-zoo-baby-bucky-revealed-at-heritage-exhibit-groundbreaking

    HENRY VILAS ZOO ANNOUNCES CAMPAIGN TO “BRING BUCKY HOME” AND HONOR WISCONSIN’S STATE HISTORY - Henry Vilas Zoo

    Bucky Badger - Wikipedia

    https://uwbadgers.com/sports/2019/2/14/bucky-badger-a-historical-look-back.aspx?id=1581

    https://madison.com/news/local/how-...cle_4dc14613-259b-5a45-8482-f4c4d49d9a91.html
     
    EsserWarrior and StoppableSan like this.