About Us

About Henry Vilas Zoo

We are proud to be one of only a few admission-free, community-supported zoos across the country. Thank you for supporting our mission to conserve and protect the wonders of the living natural world.

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 beginning of Henry Vilas Zoo. In what has proved to be a defining and truly visionary move, the Vilas family stipulated the park be free to the public. 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.


Mission and Vision

Henry Vilas Zoo Mission:

Dedicated to exceptional animal care and conserving wildlife through local engagement and global partnerships.

Henry Vilas Zoo Vision:

Locally loved community treasure, globally recognized conservation leader; forever accessible.

Henry Vilas Zoo Code of Conduct:

Henry Vilas Zoo is dedicated to being a racially, culturally, and socially just organization. We promote equity, diversity, and inclusion in all aspects of the work we do. We are committed to providing a safe environment where all people are welcome and are treated with dignity and respect by all. Unsafe or disrespectful actions towards animals, visitors, staff, volunteers or Zoo property will be addressed directly by staff. Any form of discrimination will not be tolerated.


Since opening to the public in 1911, Henry Vilas Zoo has continued to add exhibits and attractions that educate and delight zoo-goers of all ages, while helping to strengthen the connection between humans and wildlife. Learn more about the zoo’s exciting history, from the 1913 unveiling of the bear exhibit to the 2016 opening of the Wisconsin Heritage Exhibit and all the milestones in between.

Work at the Zoo

Do you have a passion for working with animals, for teaching adults and children about the wonders of the natural world, or for helping zoo-goers create memories that will last a lifetime? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, employment at Henry Vilas Zoo might be for you! Our zoo employs a staff of zookeepers, gift shop cashiers, restaurant waitstaff, train and carousel attendees, and more! Click below to view and apply for open positions.