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

Henry Vilas Zoo Saddened by the Loss of Henry the Lion

September 04, 2013
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

Henry Vilas Zoo is saddened by the loss Wednesday of the zoo’s nearly 18 year old African lion, Henry, who’s health and quality of life had been progressively deteriorating in association with late stage renal failure, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced today.


“Henry was beloved by zoo staff and visitors, and he will be greatly missed,” said Parisi.  “He and his previous mate, Vilas, contributed greatly to the survival of their species, and towards educating the public on the importance of preserving our natural world.”


Henry arrived at Henry Vilas Zoo in 1997.  Henry and his mate, Vilas, who passed in 2012, were the first residents of the zoo’s newly renovated Big Cat Exhibit.  Beginning in 2003, Vilas and Henry successfully raised eight cubs that have been transferred to other zoos as part of the AZA Lion Species Survival Plan.  Henry and Vilas’ cubs can be visited at the Milwaukee Zoo, the Racine Zoo, The NEW Zoo in Green Bay, the Topeka Zoo, Blank Park Zoo, and Tautphaus Park Zoo.


Henry had been recently paired with Shakura, the zoo’s young female lioness, earlier this year after Vilas’ passing.   Even though Henry and Shakura were together for a short period of time, zoo staff are hopeful that they may have successfully bred.


“Henry had a long and rich life at Henry Vilas Zoo. He was a favorite of staff and visitors alike and will be sorely missed,” said Henry Vilas Zoo Director Ronda Schwetz.  “His contribution to the strength of his species and their survival will be felt for generations. His legacy lives on in the eight cubs that he sired and all the zoo visitors that he inspired.”


Research conducted by the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) shows that the mean life expectancy for African lions in zoos is 16.8 years.  With advances in veterinary medicine, nutrition, husbandry techniques, and exhibitory, animals are living longer in zoos and aquariums across the country.


Although Henry lived a long, full life at Henry Vilas Zoo, it recently became apparent to zoo staff that his quality of life was diminishing.  Henry was humanely euthanized on Wednesday.


The Henry Vilas Zoo is working with The American Zoo and Aquarium Association’s Lion Species Survival Program to manage the future of the lions housed at the zoo.

Back to Press Releases