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County Executive's Office

Zoo School Still in Session This Summer With New Animals, Programs for Children to Enjoy

August 07, 2012
Casey Slaughter Becker, Office of the County Executive 608.267.8823 or cell, 608.843.8858 or Ronda Schwetz, Henry Vilas Zoo Director, 608.266.4708.
County Executive

School may be out for the summer, but the Henry Vilas Zoo School is still in session, with new animals and programs for area children to enjoy, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced today.


“The Henry Vilas Zoo School is a great chance for children of all ages to learn more about nature’s amazing animals and our own zoo,” said Parisi.  “The memories and knowledge that children gain from zoo school can last a lifetime.”


This summer, participants in Zoo School will be able to learn about and interact with these new animals exclusive to the program – they are not on-exhibit for the general public at the zoo.


The most exotic of the animals now calling Henry Vilas Zoo home is the lesser tenrec.  Only about 30 zoos in the country have a lesser tenrec.  Tenrecs are a family of animals from Madagascar and mainland Africa. They are active at night and primarily eat insects.


The tenrec family has a wide range of shapes and specialties – they look like mice, shrews, opossums, hedgehogs, and otters. Some species swim, some burrow, and some climb trees.  Lesser tenrecs look like hedgehogs and roll into a ball to protect themselves, but they are actually more closely related to elephants and aardvarks than they are to hedgehogs.


Participants in the zoo’s educational programs can also get to know the zoo’s new Ameraucana chickens, raised from chicks by zoo staff.  Ameraucanas are a friendly breed best known for their beautiful blue eggs.  Recognized since 1984, this breed was developed in the United States, derived from the South American Araucana breed which does not have tail feathers and has tufts of feathers coming from their ears.


A new African bullfrog rounds out the amazing species that make up the Zoo School. Though the frog is small now, it will grow to be over two pounds.  African bullfrogs are ambush predators that will eat anything that can fit in its mouth – including birds, mammals, and other frogs.  The bullfrog species burrows underground where it can stay moist, a great example of the adaptability of amphibians.


“We are very excited to offer a new and improved zoo school experience for our community this year. Thanks to the donation of a smart board interactive system, we now have state of the art technology to engage our school participants.  We’ve also renovated the classroom so students can feel like they are an African Savannah,” said Ronda Schwetz, Henry Vilas Zoo Director.  “Over the summer, students will also tour areas of the zoo for a chance to have that up close and personal life changing moment with many of your zoo animals.”


Due to the great demand for this program, the Henry Vilas Zoo is proud to be able to double its class offerings this year. The goal of the classes are to introduce children to some of Henry Vilas Zoo's most fascinating residents through animal encounters, behind-the-scenes and guided tours, and exciting classroom lessons and activities.  


To sign up for Zoo School and meet these amazing animals, individuals are encouraged to visit the zoo’s website at  Zoo School offers fun and exciting programs for children of all ages, from animal basics for younger children to more advanced education for older children looking to make their love of animals part of their future careers.


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