As it turns out, I married a man who also loves the zoo. Throughout our 10+ years as a couple, we've visited at least 10 different zoos across the United States. We're trying to pass along this passion to our kids, who at five and three have already been to at least five zoos and consider themselves zoo experts. Well, at five and three they consider themselves experts at just about everything, so you should probably take whatever they tell you about the zoo with a grain of salt.
"Last week, at the zoo, I saw a big a purple giraffe named Hallie!"
"That hippo told me she wishes she was wearing a leotard."
"Oops. I just dropped my McDonalds Happy Meal toy into that bird's cage."
Yes, those sentences were actually said by my children at the zoo. And yes, Will actually did drop his McDonalds Happy Meal toy into a bird cage. Don't worry - the zookeeper was immediately notified and the toy was retrieved. (Though not returned to Will.)
We visited the Henry Vilas Zoo quite a few times while in Madison this summer. (In fact, the zoo was the site of Will's first "date" - the seven-year-old little girl who lives behind my parents invited Will to come with her to the zoo, and he was delighted to accept her offer. He would have been delighted to accept any offer from Helen; the fact that she wanted to go to the zoo was icing on the cake.)
|"Let's run, Will!" (That's Hallie, not Helen, with Will.)|
|You can hear the lions roar from my parents' kitchen.|
|We watched this big buddy nearly catch/kill a (very stupid) rabbit.|
|Will shouted, "Look! It's ET!"|
|Perhaps this little fellow inspired Hallie's newfound love of swimming.|
|Tigers are without a doubt my favorite animal to photograph.|
|This was the hippo who told Hallie she|
wished she was wearing a leotard.
|Clearly NOT purple.|
|Will requested I take this picture because of the buffalo's|
proximity to his own poop.
One of the most unique features of the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison is the cost to enter. It's free.
It's rare that a zoo doesn't charge an (expensive) admission fee. But the man for whom the Henry Vilas Zoo is named and who donated the land on which the zoo was built, stipulated that in exchange for his generous donation, the zoo could never charge admission. Today the zoo operates on donations as well as food, drink, and merchandise sales. I make a point to drop a few dollars in one of the donation canisters every time I leave the zoo, just to show my appreciation for this gift to the Madison community.
It's difficult to raise children thousands of miles away from where you were raised, for many reasons. But I've found that it becomes just a bit easier when I'm able to share pieces of my childhood - the homes in which I lived, the lake on which I learned to waterski, the fields where I played soccer, my favorite restaurants, the parks and beaches where my sister and I spent our summer afternoons, and my favorite special outings (like the zoo, the children's museum, and the Union) - with them. There's a decent chance they won't remember all they've seen and done in my hometown thus far, but at least they'll be able to read about and see pictures of their adventures here.
Should you be traveling and looking for something fun to do, either on your own or with your kids, Tom and I have given the following zoos the Ferris "Seal" of Approval. Ha.
- Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wisconsin
- Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska
- Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, Illinois
- Toledo Zoo in Toledo, Ohio
- Cincinnati Zoo in Cincinnati, Ohio
- Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak, Michigan
- San Diego Zoo in San Diego, California
Also, we've yet to visit a zoo in Texas. Texas friends, should we try Austin, Houston, San Antonio, or Waco first?