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County Executive's Office

Henry Vilas Zoo Mourning the Loss of Vilas the Lion

June 13, 2012
Casey Slaughter Becker, Office of the County Executive 608.267.8823 cell, 608.843.8858 or Jeff Stafford, General Curator, Henry Vilas Zoo 608.266.4732.
County Executive


The Henry Vilas Zoo is mourning the loss of Vilas, the zoo’s 16 year old African Lion, who’s health had declined dramatically due to the development of an aggressive mammary carcinoma that had spread to her lymphatic system, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced today.


Beloved by zoo staff and visitors, Vilas arrived at Henry Vilas Zoo in 1997.  Together with Henry, the pair were the first residents of the zoo’s newly renovated Big Cat Exhibit. 


“Vilas will be greatly missed, both for the happy memories she created for zoo visitors of all ages, and for the pivotal role she played in preserving her species,” said Parisi.


Together, Henry and Vilas helped other zoos educate the public and preserve the species.  Beginning in 2003, Vilas and Henry successfully raised eight cubs.  Seven of those cubs were transferred to other zoos including the Milwaukee Zoo, the Racine Zoo, The NEW Zoo in Green Bay, the Topeka Zoo and the Tautphaus Park Zoo in Idaho Falls, Idaho. 


Vilas’ last cub Leo, born in December 2010, remains at Henry Vilas Zoo along with Henry. 


“Vilas had a long and fulfilling life during her 16 years at Henry Vilas Zoo and will be dearly missed by all. She was an amazing mother to her cubs, including Leopold, and a great partner to Henry,” said Zoo Director Ronda Schwetz.  “Vilas will remain a valuable ambassador for African lions – her contribution to the strength of the species and their survival will be felt for generations to come.”


The Henry Vilas Zoo is working with The American Zoo and Aquarium Association’s Lion Species Survival Program to find a new female Lion to accompany Henry.


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