Seal of Dane County County of Dane
County Executive's Office

County, Friends of the Zoo, Welcome Pelo the Lion to the Henry Vilas Zoo Family

March 20, 2014
Contact: Casey Slaughter Becker, Office of the County Executive (608) 267-8823 or cell (608) 843-8858 or Jeff Halter, Deputy Zoo Director (608) 515-8805.
County Executive

The Henry Vilas Zoo is excited to welcome the newest member of its animal family, Pelo (Pea-low), a young male African lion who’s arrival was made possible thanks to generous donations from community supporters, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi and The Friends of the Henry Vilas Zoo announced today.


Pelo’s name means “heart” in Sotho, a Bantu language spoken primarily in South Africa. He is 16 months old, around the age he would leave his pride in the wild. He will join the zoo’s young lioness, Shakura, on exhibit after the pair has time to get to know each other and the weather gets warmer. Until then, the lions will take turns spending time in their yard.


“We’re happy to welcome Pelo to the Henry Vilas Zoo and excited to watch him and Shakura start a new chapter in our zoo’s long history of protecting the worldwide lion population,” said Parisi. “I hope families and visitors will come out to greet the newest member of our zoo family soon.”


Pelo’s trip from Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo is a direct result of the Day of Giving Campaign held on Giving Tuesday in December of 2013. The community came together to cover the costs of transporting Pelo to Madison in a major way –  the original fundraising goal of $5,000 was more than doubled in just one day of donations.


“A huge thank you goes out to all the supporters of the zoo during the Giving Tuesday Campaign. In 24 hours, your support raised the $10,000 we needed to bring Pelo to Madison,” said Alison Prange, Executive Director of Friends of the Zoo. “Our community’s support is vital to our zoo, and its animals.”


The Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Lion Species Survival Plan (SSP), which works to preserve the species over generations, sent Pelo to pair with Shakura, the Henry Vilas Zoo’s young lioness. The SSP makes matches to help produce the healthiest and most genetically sound offspring possible for the long-term health of the whole population.


 “We are thrilled to have found a partner for our young female lion Shakura,” said Ronda Schwetz, Director of the Henry Vilas Zoo. “We could not have done this without the incredibly generous support of our community during the Giving Tuesday campaign. We hope that the community enjoys watching our young lion pair grow, mature, and hopefully produce cubs together.”


The Henry Vilas Zoo’s previous mating pair of lions, Vilas and Henry, produced eight cubs as a part of the SSP. Their cubs can be seen today at the Milwaukee Zoo; the Racine Zoo; The NEW Zoo in Green Bay; the Topeka Zoo in Kansas; the Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines, Iowa; and the Tautphaus Park Zoo in Idaho Falls, Idaho.


Guests can visit the Henry Vilas Zoo animal family every day from 9:30am to 5pm. All animal buildings are open from 10-4. The public can also keep up to date on Pelo, Shakura, and everything new at the zoo on the zoo’s Facebook page at

# # #

Back to Press Releases