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Press Release

Henry Vilas Zoo Announces Plans for a New Giraffe Building

October 5, 2023

Dane County’s Henry Vilas Zoo Announces Plans for a New Giraffe Building

(Madison, WI) – Dane County’s Henry Vilas Zoo announced today that it is planning a new Giraffe Exhibit, with construction slated to begin in the spring of 2025. County Executive Joe Parisi included $21 million for the project in his recently introduced 2024 county budget. The new facility will showcase the care and bond between animals and their keepers, feature state-of-the-art training equipment, and ensure that the Henry Vilas Zoo continues to be a leader in animal husbandry. This project is part of a longer-range plan for a section of the Zoo that will be known as “Edge of Africa” that will enable the Zoo to maintain accreditation by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums and stay ahead of evolving philosophies and technology with regard to animal care.

“As we saw with the debut of Arctic Passage a few years ago, this community really embraces projects like this at our zoo, re-energizing our shared values of conservation and education,” County Executive Joe Parisi said. “Creating this new space for a larger giraffe herd will revamp the entire look and feel of the Zoo so future generations will be able to continue making memories there.”

The $21 million in the budget includes $9.3 million in county borrowing, with the remaining dollar amount coming from past and future donations. As of now, the project needs about $4 million in additional donations, funds the zoo hopes to raise in the months ahead.

In anticipation of constructing the new giraffe exhibit, the Zoo’s current giraffe, a 14-year-old male named Eddie, will be transferred to the NEW Zoo & Adventure Park in Green Bay, WI sometime this fall. The NEW Zoo completed an expansion of their giraffe exhibit in July 2023. There, Eddie will join the zoo’s two existing giraffes, Nigel and Zuri.

“Sending Eddie to Green Bay is going to be a bittersweet experience for everyone here at the Zoo,” said Executive Zoo Director Ronda Schwetz. “We are so grateful that he will be staying in Wisconsin at a facility we are very familiar with, but we sure are going to miss him. We’ll be sharing more information soon on our website regarding how the public can help support the construction of our new exhibit, since the Zoo belongs to everyone.”

Henry Vilas Zoo will host a Bon Voyage party for Eddie on Sunday, October 8th from 10am – 2pm. There will be special animal enrichment, a zookeeper chat, a chance for the public to sign farewell cards, and wildlife champions on hand to educate guests.

Henry Vilas Zoo has been a cornerstone of the culture and history of Madison and surrounding communities for more than 100 years. As one of the only free zoos in the United States, Henry Vilas Zoo provides guests an opportunity to interact with the natural world without the burden of cost.

Henry Vilas Zoo will be enthusiastically embarking on the Edge of Africa capital campaign with a goal of raising $4 million over a two-year period. The last major construction projects at the Zoo were the award-winning Arctic Passage that was completed in 2015 and the Wisconsin Heritage Exhibit that opened in 2018.

Henry Vilas Zoo, established more than 100 years ago, is one of just a few free-admission zoos in the United States. Accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, the Zoo is dedicated to exceptional animal care, conserving wildlife through local engagement and global partnerships, and providing the community with education and valuable experiences with the natural world. For more information, visit