Join our zoo community

Henry Vilas Zoo My Review of the Henry Vilas Zoo

Discussion in 'United States' started by Wild wolverine, 3 Aug 2015.

  1. Wild wolverine

    Wild wolverine Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    8 Apr 2014
    Posts:
    177
    Location:
    Milwaukee, WI, USA
    Hello! Allow me to introduce myself. I am Wild Wolverine, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Being 16 years old really cuts in to how much time and money and opportunities that I have to visit zoos other than my own local one (Milwaukee County Zoo) Today, however, I was given the opportunity to go to Madison's Henry Vilas Zoo for a second time. I visited back in July 2012, and a lot has changed since then. I hope you enjoy my first review of my first "bigger city" zoo. (I have done 1 other review of the the Manitowoc Lincoln Park Zoo)

    First things first. This zoo is free, which is a slightly large plus considering the high quality of the zoo animals and exhibits. It is one of only a small handful of zoos in the country that are free and yet kept in very good shape!
    - I entered the zoo in Gate 1, right by the gift shop and concession stand. The first thing you see is a nice, clean looking entrance plaza that's small but nice. Going down a path to the right you first come across the outdoor Orangutan exhibit. It's an alright exhibit with beams to climb and things to do. Nothing out of the ordinary. As you enter the Primate House you can see first: indoor orangutans in an exhibit with high ceilings and lots of things to climb, second: an indoor Colobus Monkey exhibit with a bit of a surprise: two Rock Hyraxes! Followed lastly by an indoor Ruffed Lemur Exhibit. Besides the fact that the lemurs are small so they have a lot of room to run and climb, nothing big really stands out in this building. The walkway is narrow though and it's pretty crowded if there are a lot of people there. *I did not see the baby orangutan. I hope all is going well with its re-introduction to its parents* When you exit the building, there is an outdoor exhibit identical to the orangutan outdoor exhibit for Ring-tailed Lemurs. I'm pretty sure that the Ruffed Lemurs and Ring-tailed Lemurs alternate indoor/outdoor exhibit time because there was information for both lemur species at both the indoor and outdoor lemur exhibits.

    - After the outdoor lemur exhibit is a porch-like viewing platform for the African Lions. The lion exhibit is nice overall, but simple. There is a nice rock structure for them to climb on and hide in/under for shade. Around the corner is another viewing point for the lions, but this one is a glass window rather than chain-link fence. Next is the former harbor seal exhibit. The pool has been drained and filled in with dirt. I am not sure if there are any plans for this small exhibit (maybe a bobcat or fox? Something small like that if anything at all) Next is the Amur (Siberian) Tiger exhibit. Big, natural looking, lots of places to hide. Much like the lion exhibit there is a rock structure for climbing and hiding. There are three viewing areas for the tigers; one is chain-link fencing, another around the corner is a glass window, and the third is a long pathway that is all chain-link. Overall, the feline exhibits are roomy and have a lot of places for the big cats to be unseen by the public, but at the end of the day they are simple big cat exhibits.

    -Across from the third viewing area for the tigers is the Malayan Tapir exhibit. It's nice, pretty basic, but nice. Not that big, but not too small. It has shade, a pool, and sand for the tapir (who was hiding in the back corner on the far end of the exhibit in the shade.) Next to the tapir is the Southern White Rhino exhibit. It was very similar to the tapir exhibit, but larger. Across the path are the giraffes. This exhibit has a small dip between the public and the animals, but there is still a fence keeping the animals in (unlike the tapir and rhino exhibits which have a hill, but not a trench or moat, just a hill which the animals could easily get to and from to stay hidden from the public) The giraffe exhibit isn't anything too special, and neither is the Bactrian Camel exhibit next to it. Across from the camels and giraffes is the Alpaca exhibit. The exhibit is in the Children's Zoo and looks like it would be more fit for cows are horses as it is literally a barn. The rhea also lives with the alpaca, but I did not see it during my visit. Next to the camels is the Barbados Sheep. (The exhibits are now ground leveled with the guest walkways and have chain-link fences) Next is the Ostrich and Common Peafowl exhibit, however, I saw neither of these species during my visit. As you turn a corner it's still the Ostrich exhibit but then there is the Somali Wild Ass exhibit. This very rare and very endangered species arrived at the zoo in May 2015, and are exhibited where the Barbados Sheep used to be. (The sheep moved into the former rhea exhibit and the rhea moved in with the alpaca) This was a really special highlight because this little zoo has such a rare and endangered species, only 34 institutions around the globe have them (as of 2011), and the Henry Vilas Zoo is only the fourth zoo in the country to exhibit the species! Definitely a real special treat for any zoo-chatter! :D

    - Going to the right, passed a concessions stand, and taking another right is the Children's Zoo. The first animals in the Children's Zoo may come as a surprise to some of you as flamingos are not commonly considered "children's zoo type" animals. Yes flamingos. The zoo has a decently sized flock of some Caribbean and some Chilean flamingos in a decently sized exhibit. Passed the carousel and playground is an outdoor exhibit for White-handed Gibbons. Followed by the indoor gibbon exhibit, the indoor Red Panda exhibit, and then the outdoor Red Panda exhibit. All of the exhibits in the Children's Zoo are similar is size and design. They look a little cramped and are too small for the species that they hold, but if it was a smaller species, it would be a very nice exhibit. After the outdoor red panda exhibit is a small exhibit for Red-footed Tortoises, which were an unexpected surprise as it doesn't look like an exhibit until you see a tortoise. After turning a corner is the very small outdoor Indian Created Porcupine exhibit, followed by the indoor crested porcupine exhibit and indoor meerkat exhibit, and then yet another surprise, an Aardvark! The aardvark arrived in 2013? Maybe 2014, and although it doesn't have an outdoor exhibit space, it has probably the roomiest exhibit in this section of the Children's Zoo. After the outdoor Meerkat exhibit and turning a corner to another viewing window for the aardvark, you come to the goat feeding exhibit. It was just like any other goat feeding yard. You know, noisy, kids everywhere, goats, the usual.

    - Just outside the Children's Zoo is the Discovery Center and Herpetarium Building. The Dicovery Center is nothing more than a new tiny glass boxes for quails, snakes and some frogs on some tables with facts about the environment all over the place is a small crowded space which, at least during my visit, smelled so terrible I just walked straight through it to the Herpetarium (which is connected through another doorway inside the Discovery Center) The Herptetarium has (just like in the Primate Building) narrow walkways and a big crowd. Pretty average sized tanks hold mostly common reptiles like Rat Snakes, Fox Snakes, Painted Turtles, Map Turtles, various fish, and surprisingly high number of Poison Dat Frogs, as well as two Green Anacondas. The real stand outs of the building where a HUGE snapping turtle in a pretty good sized tank, and at the end of the building, the indoor Albrada Tortoise exhibit. Right outside the building is the outdoor Ornate Box Turtle exhibit (the box turtles were inside the building during my visit) and then the American Alligator exhibit. I'm pretty sure a single alligator lives in the exhibit, and rightfully so. It isn't that the exhibit is too small or anything like that, but two alligators would be too many. Next to the alligators is the Albrada tortoise outdoor exhibit. Neither outdoor reptile exhibits have anything very species about them.

    - Going right at the tortoise exhibit is the main purpose of my visit today: Arctic Passage. Opening Memorial Day weekend 2015, Arctic Passage is a state of the art exhibit that houses polar bears, grizzly bears, and harbor seals. I won't lie to you, considering the zoo had been planning and fundraising for at least 5 years, I expected bigger and more out of Arctic Passage. Don't get me wrong though, it is truly incredible that a free admission zoo was able to build such and exhibit. A very, very large Polar Bear exhibit with 5 different viewing areas (one inside of the restaurant!) gets you an almost guaranteed to see the polar bears. All of the viewing areas are glass windows, allowing guests to get just inches away from both polar and grizzly bears. The lack of chain-link fencing or moats, large grassy meadows and a good sized pool for the polar bears make the polar bear exhibit truly stand out above most other polar bear exhibits I've seen in person. The Grizzly Bear Exhibit is only slightly smaller than the polar bear exhibit, with only two viewing areas. The grizzly bears also have lots of grass and logs and a rock structure, but they're pool is a little small. Maybe it was just compared to the polar bear pool's big size that the grizzles' pool seems a bit cramped, but still way for the bears to cool off none the less. Both bear indoor exhibits have glass windows, probably only about 5 feet long that I assume would allow you to see part of their indoor areas if it is too hot for the polar bears, or too cold for the grizzly bears. All along the pathway from the polar bears to the grizzlies are facts about bears in the wild and a replica bear trap (like one they'd use in Yellowstone National Park to remove bears from residential areas) and even the very big Tundra Buggy which is what scientists ride around in while studying in the great white north. Now for the weakest part of Arctic Passage; the Harbor Seal exhibit. It isn't terrible, that being that it is larger than their old exhibit and allows underwater viewing (new for the Henry Vilas Zoo.) But the pool could be and should be so much bigger than it is (they completely have the room as you can see in the photos of the exhibit) and it doesn't look as natural as most other newly renovated seal exhibits look. Just one small side note about Arctic Passage overall: There are tall concrete walls in between in exhibits and by the viewing windows inside and outside the animal exhibits. Most of the back wall of the seal exhibit is this bland concrete wall that isn't all that distracting, but it takes a little bit away from the feel of the exhibit. I did, however, see bushes and trees planted all around the exhibit, especially around these concrete walls. Hopefully as the trees grow, the walls with become more hidden from guests.

    - Across from Arctic Passage is the George Fait North American Prairie. It consists of a regular bison exhibit, and a ramp going up and over an empty badger exhibit. (It was very overgrown with plants and the sign with badger information was almost completely covered with vines. A very small sign reads "This Exhibit Is Closed" Continuing up the ramp is a large Prairie Dog exhibit with, what I counted as 27, Prairie Dogs! They are not at all cramped and have plenty of room to run and dig. At the top of the ramp is an overhead view of the bison exhibit that loops around and goes back down.

    - Turning right at the Glacier Grille restaurant (part of Arctic Passage) is the North American River Otter exhibit. It has two levels, the large pond with little land, the the lower level (after the waterfall and on the other side of the exhibit) with a slightly smaller pond and more land. Unfortunately, I did not see any otters in this fairly well otter exhibit. It may have been too hot for them. After the otters is the Capybara exhibit. Now capybaras have always appealed to me for a reason that I really do not know. Maybe it's the fact that Milwaukee hasn't had them in almost 10 years and they're quite cute in my opinion. The exhibit itself is nice, not too small, has a pool for them to swim in, and shade. (No chain-link fencing for the otters or capybaras which is another big plus for the exhibits.) Just passed the capybaras is the doors in the Aviary. The Aviary has many non-bird species if I may point out.

    - Just after walking in, glass windows allow you to see the capybaras from the other side. Down the hallway is a very small tank with a stingray and South American two fish (I don not remember the species) Farther down the hallway is a larger tank with large South American fish species below, and three Kookaburras flying above. It was interesting to me that fish from South America are in an exhibit with an Australian bird but, it is really a nice exhibit. Next is a similar exhibit with piranha swimming below and a White-cheeked Turaco flying above. Again, an African bird with South American fish but it is a nice exhibit. Through a doorway is the free flight section with several species of bird including chestnut teals, sunbitterns, and blue and gold macaws, and a few red-eared slider turtles. At first when you enter the free flight zone, to your right is the Golden Lion Tamarin exhibit. Nothing too special there besides being able to get very close to the endangered primate. To the left is an Agouti. I can imagine that many people miss this little creature because you have to look way far down to the bottom of the exhibit to see them. (You are up on a platform pathway, the agoutis way far down on the ground below you)
    Through another set of doors is a small, smelly room with a single exhibit that holds Geoffrey's Marmosets, however, during my visit today, the exhibit was empty and being renovated.

    -Lastly as you exit the Aviary and go down the path and go right and around a corner and up a slight hill is the African Penguin exhibit. It is not very different from man other outdoor penguin exhibits that I have seen, and the penguins seem to feel at home.
    Just down the path a little farther is the gate we came in through, Gate 1. The zoo asks for donations with donation boxes in a few places throughout the zoo, so feel free to give this wonderfully small, but very good, AZA Accredited, Henry Vilas Zoo a donation while you are there.

    I hope you enjoyed my review! Thanks everyone!
     
  2. Milwaukee Man

    Milwaukee Man Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    1 Aug 2011
    Posts:
    2,268
    Location:
    Milwaukee, WI, USA
    I enjoyed your review, wild wolverine! For the most part, I agree with everything you posted.

    It's funny how we posted opinions of Arctic Passage almost at the same time :p.

    Thanks for posting! :)
     
  3. Wild wolverine

    Wild wolverine Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    8 Apr 2014
    Posts:
    177
    Location:
    Milwaukee, WI, USA
    Thanks Milwaukee Man! :)
     
  4. Coelacanth18

    Coelacanth18 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    23 Feb 2015
    Posts:
    907
    Location:
    Los Angeles
    I had no idea HVZ had an aardvark. What an incredibly rare find!

    It sounds like it's a rather small zoo, but with a high number of marquee animals, which is actually ideal for average visitors: not too large or small, and all of the major animals represented.
     
  5. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

    Joined:
    1 Dec 2007
    Posts:
    15,127
    Location:
    Abbotsford, B.C., Canada
    Thanks for the review and I greatly appreciated reading it.