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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Madison's Zoo: What Happened?

Madison has recently had an unusual streak of warm temperatures and sunshine. While I'm glad that winter is over and things will begin to bloom, abundant sunshine and temperatures up to 75 caught me off guard in mid-April. Since the clouds were set to roll in last night and rain will grace our presence today and tomorrow, the Henry Vilas Zoo seemed like a fitting activity after strolling the first weekend of the outdoor farmer's market around the Capitol Square.

Madison's Henry Vilas Zoo is a free zoo located just about a 5-minute walk from our current residence. It features a variety of animals who, on a warm and gorgeous day like yesterday, couldn't help but be playful and energetic, a fitting tribute to Spring. My favorite playful creatures included the penguins (of course), a seal, and the flamingos.

Penguins! Seal: Grinning and Swimming Pink Again

Others simply tried to stay cool, enjoying a quick swim or relaxing in the shade.

Giraffe, Part II Monkeys from Vilas Zoo After an Afternoon Swim

All in all, it was a wonderful walk and trip to the zoo. Our last zoo experience was the impressive Milwaukee Zoo, which, with parking and admission, cost us about $35 to enjoy. With the Henry Vilas Zoo's price tag of free, we saved a great deal of money in this struggling economy. Nevertheless, the low price of admission is reflected in many ways at the zoo. Our last visit included unhealthy animals: giraffes that eventually didn't survive and two crocodiles we were pretty sure had already kicked the bucket. While most of the animals appeared to be healthy and enjoying themselves on this trip, the overall experience was a pretty unmagical one.

It didn't take long for us to realize that some of the visitors to the Henry Vilas Zoo use their trip for babysitting purposes (send them to the play structures with little supervision) or are completely ignorant of proper zoo etiquette (no matter how awesome you think you are, DO NOT reach over the fence to touch that bird). Mostly gone are parents taking advantage of the educational opportunities a zoo provides: a chance to teach kids not only about animals and habitats, but also about proper behaviors when viewing such creatures, such as refraining from taunting and sharing observation opportunities with others.

All of these reactions led to a discussion that Molly and I had and I now throw out to the blogosphere: would the Henry Vilas Zoo, both the experience of visiting it and the animals it offers, be better if even a small entrance fee were charged? Does the fact that this zoo only accepts donations result in a lack of respect for its premises and purpose? Feel free to leave your comments as I'm intrigued by your thoughts on this topic. For now, I'll leave you with my favorite photo of the day:

All Eyes on Me

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