The community-supported Henry Vilas Zoo is full of family-friendly fun for all to enjoy. From our Tropical Rainforest Aviary to our Primate House, we offer a variety of exhibits and attractions sure to delight zoo visitors of all ages. See what the zoo has to offer below and plan your visit today!
Tropical Rainforest Aviary
NOTE: The Aviary is currently closed to the public to protect our COVID-susceptible animals.
Since 2003, the Tropical Rainforest Aviary has wowed Henry Vilas Zoo visitors with an immersive tropical experience right here in Madison. Visitors are given the opportunity to walk through the free-flight aviary and experience the beauty of the birds at close range. The exhibit also features many tropical plants and fish.
Just outside the Tropical Rainforest Aviary, visitors can enjoy the lively antics of the zoo’s otters as they swim and play in their exhibit’s waterfall. Near the otter exhibit, you’ll find the zoo’s popular capybaras: the world’s largest rodent. During the fall and winter, this warm, tropical building is the perfect place to escape the cold!
The Tropical Rainforest Aviary is located on the northeast side of the zoo, near the penguin exhibit.
Big Cats Exhibits
Henry Vilas Zoo is proud to care for Amur tigers and African lions. Their exhibits mimic habitats in the wild and feature heated rocks for the cats’ comfort in cool weather. Our big cats exhibits are open year round!
The Big Cat Exhibits are located in the center of the zoo on the north side, near the Primate Building.
Discovery Center and Herpetarium
Since 1993, the Discovery Center and Herpetarium have been a favorite zoo destination. The Herpetarium is home to cold-blooded animals: reptiles, amphibians, and fish. Don’t miss the green anaconda, the largest snake species in the world, or the Aldabra tortoise, the largest tortoise species on the planet!
In the same building, you’ll find the Discovery Center: the zoo’s hands-on learning center. At the center’s exploration stations, you’ll use microscopes and magnifying lenses to view the fine details of feathers, scales, and eggs. Visit the Discovery Center to escape the cold during a winter visit to the zoo!
The Discovery Center and Herpetarium is located on the south side of the zoo near the Bridge Gate entrance.
North American Prairie
Take a moment to enjoy the animals that are native to our part of the world at the George Fait North American Prairie exhibit. The exhibit’s bison are impressive animals in any season. Perfectly adapted to Wisconsin winters, they can be seen sitting contentedly in a giant snowdrift in the winter or rolling in a new dirt mound in the summer. The exhibit also includes Bucky badger’s summer vacation yard, and you may glimpse him hard at work perfecting one of his many burrows.
The George Fait North American Prairie is located in the southeast corner of the zoo, across from the Arctic Passage exhibit.
Animal Health Center
The zoo’s state-of-the-art Animal Health Center opened in May 2013. This facility functions as an animal hospital and a quarantine facility for the zoo, meaning it’s an animal’s first stop upon arriving at the zoo and its last stop upon leaving the zoo. The Animal Health Center provides superior preventative health care to the animals, as well as on-site emergency care. If you’re lucky, you may be able to watch a real procedure take place in the exam room! This building also features a classroom fit to inspire the next generation of zoo vets.
One of the first animals to utilize the Animal Health Center was a penguin chick named Burgess who was hand-raised in the exhibit next to the classroom. Another early visitor to the center was Pelo the lion, who arrived at the zoo in 2013.
The Animal Health Center is located at the east end of the zoo, past the Arctic Passage exhibit.
Our Arctic Passage, opened in 2015, houses large, natural exhibits for grizzly bears and polar bears, as well as the zoo’s beloved harbor seals. The exhibit features underwater viewing of the polar bears and seals and a stream where the grizzly bears love to fish! Check out the interactive, educational experiences for visitors of all ages, including the retired Tundra Buggy research vehicle from the Arctic!
As a modern zoo committed to conservation, we built the exhibit to include a number of sustainability features, such as solar panels, rainwater harvesting, and an underground storage unit that saves over 2 million gallons of water each year to be used for the animals’ pools.
The Arctic Passage is located on the east side of the zoo, across from the George Fait North American Prairie.
The Children’s Zoo is a wonderful place for kids of all ages! A popular feature of the Children’s Zoo – the sustainably-designed Red Barn – houses our friendly (and very entertaining) herd of goats. The Green Barn is home to our red pandas and aardvark.
Come ride the electric Zoo Train, which travels through a tunnel and around the perimeter of the Children’s Zoo. Or, hop on the Conservation Carousel (no carousel horses here, but you might find yourself atop an okapi or a seal)! This beloved attraction began spinning in 2006 and, weather permitting, runs from April through October. Both the train and the Conservation Carousel cost $3 per ride per passenger; visitors can purchase tokens and multi-ride punch cards in the carousel building or at the main gift shop. All proceeds support the Henry Vilas Zoo.
The Children’s Zoo is located on the south side of the zoo, across from the Discovery Center and Herpetarium and next to the Bridge Gate entrance off Wingra Drive.
Since 1995, the Primate House has housed primates from around the globe. Here, visitors will learn about prosimians (the “pre-monkeys”), monkeys, and apes. Don’t miss the playful, perceptive Bornean orangutans!
The Primate House is located near the north entrance of the zoo, across from the gift shop and picnic area.
Savanna and High Plains
Henry Vilas Zoo is home to some of the most iconic animal species from savanna and high plains habitats around the world. Pause to watch the giraffes stretch their long necks to reach tasty leaves in the highest branches of the trees. Around the corner, you’ll find Bactrian camels from the high plains of Asia and alpacas from the mountains of South America.
The savanna and high plains exhibits are located on the west side of the zoo.
Come celebrate Wisconsin’s history at our newest exhibit: Wisconsin Heritage. This exhibit features the zoo’s three American badgers – Bucky, Dekker, and Kaminsky – as well as our rescued Sandhill crane. Interactive opportunities include a “badger sett,” which gives kids a close-up view of our badgers in their burrow, as well as activities and signage depicting the history of Wisconsin and Bucky Badger.
Wisconsin Heritage is located across the path from Arctic Passage and our Animal Health Center.
Henry Vilas Zoo is home to many more species of animals in addition to those previously listed, such as African penguins, North American porcupines, flamingos, and more. Our mission is to strengthen the connection between humans and wildlife, and we hope you have an enjoyable, educational experience at our zoo.
To learn how you can help our animals’ wild relatives, please review the signs at the animal exhibits. You can also learn more by visiting the Conservation section of the zoo’s website. We invite you to join us for our conservation events throughout the year focused on protecting animals in the wild.
Behind the Scenes Tours
Come get a closer look at how we care for our animals at your Henry Vilas Zoo! Sign up for one of four Behind the Scenes tours and get to see an area of the zoo normally only seen by the animals and keepers. Gain some insider knowledge about our zoo, our animals, and our conservation work around the world.
Tour topics include: Be a Zookeeper, R.O.U.S. (Rodents of Unusual Size), Gentle Giants, and African Adventure.
All tours require advance registration.