The Henry Vilas Zoo is receiving its accreditation for its commitment to animal care, conservation and education, the Dane County Executive announced Wednesday.
The Association of Zoos and Aquarium, which gave the zoo the award, is a nonprofit organization, founded in 1924, dedicated to the advancement of conservation, education, science and recreation in zoos and aquariums. Out of 28,000 animals exhibitors, only 220 are accredited by the association, according to Henry Vilas deputy zoo director Jeff Halter.
“The zoo is happy and proud to be put in such an elite group,” Halter said.
To receive an accreditation from association is “the highest stamp of approval”, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said.
Parisi said receiving the accreditation requires the staff, operations and the facilities of the zoo undergo an intensive review in order to ensure it will continue to meet the rising standards of animal care, conservation, education and safety.
“This award ranks [the Henry Vilas Zoo] as one of the best in the country and across the world,” Parisi said.
Halter said the accreditation is not just about pride, but helps with the zoo’s business because many animals are loaned out to zoos to be put on display. Being ranked among elite zoos in the nation helps the Henry Vilas Zoo attract popular animals to be used in their exhibits, Parisi said.
Parisi said the zoo is continuing efforts to expand and improve its offerings for the community. Parisi revealed plans to expand the zoo’s “Arctic Passage” exhibit, which will be home to a variety of arctic animals and interactive education on climate change.
The improvements on the exhibit include an example of a “Tundra Buggy” research vehicle, which scientists used to provide tours of the North Pole, to educate visitors on the impacts of climate change, as well as the role they play in current global climate issues, a Dane County statement said.
Parisi added the zoo has plans to invest in solar panels and rainwater collection tanks in the exhibit that will be used to create energy and water resources for the zoo grounds. These will be employed to demonstrate the sustainability that the zoo promotes, he said. He said the zoo has plans to break ground in January.
Halter said the goals of such expansions include raising awareness of climate change and educating the public on how those issues affect what goes on in the environment. Halter said the exhibit hopes to increase community involvement, especially that of children.
“[It will] engage conservation communities in new ways while allowing kids to see their wild counterparts up-close and personal,” Halter said.
The exhibit will be funded through a cooperative effort between the county, city and Friends of the Zoo, Parisi said. The Dane County Executive pledged $380,000 to the expanded exhibits.
The increased operating costs for the exhibit will be covered through the sales in the new concession area attached to the exhibit, Parisi said. He said visitors will now be able to watch the polar bears while they eat.
Halter said he believes the changes will provide guests with a “more valuable experience,” while also raising awareness about conservation issues in Dane County and the world at large.