By Mark Crawford
Wisconsin is home to more than 20 zoos. Below are some “don’t miss” exhibits recommended by zoo staff at the Milwaukee County Zoo in Milwaukee, Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, and Irvine Park Zoo in Chippewa Falls.
Florence Mila Borchert Big Cat Country
This 16,000 square-foot building with natural, realistic habitats is home to some special cool cats. It’s easy to get up close and personal with these lions, cheetahs, spotted hyenas, jaguars, and other graceful felines—the design of the exhibit allows visitors to come face to face with these amazing animals (separated by heavy glass, of course).
African Savanna and Waterhole
The Milwaukee County Zoo is known for its creative predator/prey exhibit style, which simulates nature by placing predators and prey in close proximity with each other, yet safely separated by well-hidden dry motes. In the African Waterhole, for example, it seems the African lions are in the same enclosure with the antelope, zebra, and storks; cheetahs overlook gazelles, impalas, and cranes in the African savanna.
Special Summer Exhibits
Each summer the Henry Vilas Zoo and the University of Wisconsin Zoological Museum partner up to create educational exhibits for the summer months. Generally, they have a historical theme and relate to the animals at the zoo. Examples from the past being, "A Journey Through Time," this exhibit visualized the evolution of the animals at the zoo to their pre-historic counterparts. Another example, "Discovering Dinosaurs, A Journey from Pre-historic time to Modern Day," where they have a sixteen foot replica of a Brachiosaurus. These exhibits are great learning opportunities for you and your kids.
Part of the Children’s Zoo, the red panda exhibit is a visitor favorite. Two red pandas frolic in an indoor/outdoor facility with a grassy play area, perching structures, and nesting boxes. Red pandas look like raccoons, but have deep red fur and white, curious faces. They are busy climbers and often laze in the hammock in the afternoons. They enjoy cold weather and are frequently out in the winter.
This natural exhibit is about 20 acres in size and holds six bison. The upper section is oak savannah with a rolling hill and two natural spring-fed ponds surrounded by sand "beaches" where bison roll in on hot summer days. Often seen in the pasture are native red fox and snapping turtles. It is also a frequent stopover for various waterfowl, bald eagles, and sandhill cranes.
American Black Bears
There is plenty of room to roam in this 5,500-square-foot natural habitat, complete with a waterfall and large pool. Large windows provide clear views of the animals in their shaded walking area, or lounging on a central basking platform. The bears often spend hot summer days sitting leisurely upright in the pool; in the evenings they pile up on the platform (worn out from all that relaxing).