Warm Fuzzy Salute

Henry Vilas Zoo: Conservation In Action

Have you ever wondered how zoos end up with the animals that live there?   While it may not surprise you  to learn that most animals housed in zoos were born in zoos, you might not realize that quality zoos around the world work together to keep zoo animal populations healthy and diverse through captive wildlife breeding programs.  One of those high quality zoos is right here in Madison! Henry Vilas Zoo is a  member of the  Association of Zoos and Aquaria (AZA) and has received this prestigious mark in part, through its participation in captive wildlife breeding programs.

Being accredited by AZA means that your Henry Vilas Zoo is among the top 10% of all zoos in the country and follows strict welfare and care guidelines. Henry Vilas Zoo and other reputable wildlife organizations work together  to play Love Connection with many endangered species in their care, matching an animal with its best possible mate to ensure offspring will be genetically healthy!  Late this spring, two of Vilas Zoo’s harbor seals  who were that perfect match, came together with amazing results!

On May 16th, Betty the harbor seal gave birth to her first pup in 14 years!  At age 42, Betty is the oldest harbor seal on record to give birth.  As an older mom, Betty didn’t produce milk right away and she needed a little support. Since Vilas Zoo is a part of the captive wildlife breeding program with the harbor seal Species Survival Plan (SSP), zoo staff was able to reach out to
other participants for advice on how to best help Betty and her pup.  With this guidance, Vilas Zoo developed a plan which allowed Betty to do most of the work but allowed keepers to step in and help make sure the pup was getting enough nourishment.  Staff was able to mix a formula that mimics a mother seal’s fatty, rich milk.  They fed this mixture to the pup every 4 hours, around the clock and when the pup was not being fed, she stayed with Betty. After a few days, the pup began to thrive.  Day and night formula feedings lasted  about two weeks and the pup put on weight and began to spend more and more time swimming.  Not long after that, the pup began nursing regularly on her own and keepers were able to let Betty take over full time!   With high quality support from the zoo community through the SSP, Henry Vilas Zoo was able to successfully care for their new addition.
What does Vilas Zoo’s success mean for Betty’s wild relatives?  Although Betty and her pup will never live in the ocean, wildlife caretakers learn valuable information about caring for wild animals by working with their captive counterparts.  Through places like Henry Vilas Zoo, scientists can pinpoint animals’ needs and better protect wild populations.

If you would like to donate a toy to the Henry Vilas Zoo animals including the new seal pup, visit any of the Madison area Mounds Pet Food Warehouses and look for items labeled with the Henry Vilas Zoo logo.    Then, come to the zoo and see your donation at work—or rather, play!