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Dane County Henry Vilas Zoo Earns Official Accreditation from Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)

September 06, 2019
Ariana Vruwink (608) 267-8823
County Executive

One of Few Remaining Free Zoos in the Country Continues its Missions of Conservation, Species Survival; Announces New Expanded Hours

Today, Dane County’s Henry Vilas Zoo secured the distinct honor of being accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums at the organization’s annual meeting taking place in New Orleans. County Executive Joe Parisi, Zoo Director Ronda Schwetz, and zoo staff attended this afternoon’s accreditation conference and presented on the zoo’s exciting future, which includes plans to debut expanded hours next year so families have even greater opportunity to enjoy the zoo in the evenings.

“Our community loves its free zoo, and as we’ve seen again this summer it is truly a place for family fun and also a living classroom to learn about the impacts of climate change,” said Dane County Executive Joe Parisi. “We are incredibly proud to have the trust of the AZA to continue our conservation work, which is so critical and timely given the challenges species across the globe are facing.”

“Being an AZA accredited institution is an incredible honor, the gold standard in animal welfare, and affirmation that our zoo remains on the cutting edge,” Zoo Director Ronda Schwetz said. “Today’s decision brings great pride to our zookeepers, volunteers, staff, and everyone who loves our zoo.”

“Dane County’s Henry Vilas Zoo is among the outstanding aquariums and zoos that have met or exceeded our rigorous accreditation standards,” said AZA President and CEO Dan Ashe. “The hundreds of millions of annual guests to AZA-accredited facilities like Henry Vilas can be assured their visit is supporting a facility that provides the highest-quality animal care and welfare and is contributing to initiatives that save animals from extinction.”

According to the AZA, less than 10 percent of the nearly 2,800 wildlife exhibitors licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture achieve this accreditation. This honor ensures the Henry Vilas Zoo can continue to participate in species survival programs for endangered animals. To be accredited, the Henry Vilas Zoo underwent a thorough review to make certain it has and will continue to meet ever-rising standards in categories which include animal care and welfare, veterinary programs, conservation, education, and safety. AZA requires zoos and aquariums to successfully complete this rigorous accreditation process every five years in order to be members of the Association.

“The Henry Vilas Zoo continues to be an asset for District 13, the community at large, and free to the public while maintaining unique animal exhibits and quality animal care,” County Board Supervisor and Zoo Commission member Chuck Erickson said. “Animal conservation and environmental sustainability will always be priorities.”

At today’s AZA conference, Schwetz unveiled for the first time plans for the Henry Vilas Zoo to expand hours in the coming year. Starting next spring, the zoo will be open evenings so families have more opportunities to come out to the zoo. These longer seasonal hours will mean the zoo is open until 8 p.m. from Memorial Day until Labor Day each year.

“Whether it’s dinner at the zoo or just a place for families to go and unwind after a long day at work, I can’t think of a better way to spend warm summer evenings than at our community’s free zoo,” Parisi said. Dollars for the additional staff needed for the zoo’s expanded hours will be included in the County Executive’s 2020 budget slated for release October 1st.

About AZA

Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, animal welfare, education, science, and recreation. AZA is the accrediting body for the top zoos and aquariums in the United States and ten other countries. Look for the AZA accreditation logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. The AZA is a leader in saving species and your link to helping animals all over the world. To learn more, visit

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