Almost one million visitors headed to Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison in 2015, breaking attendance records.
The total came to 933,626 as of this week, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced in a statement. That's more than 20 percent higher than any year previously on record.
“This tremendous success comes from the hard work of the very dedicated partnership between the County, Zoo and the non-profit support group, Friends of the Zoo,” zoo director Ronda Schwetz said in a press release. “Without this teamwork, including support from volunteers and guests, we would not have achieved this benchmark.”
The free 28-acre zoo has had an eventful year.
In April, a baby orangutan named Keju was born, but her mother stopped full-time care for her. Six months later, following unsuccessful attempts to reunite her with her mother, Keju moved to a zoo in Atlanta.
In May, the new "Arctic Passage" exhibit opened, drawing more than 100 families to its grand opening. The new exhibit cost $10 million and includes polar bears, grizzly bears, seals and the zoo's first indoor restaurant, Glacier Grille. The exhibit also became home to a new pair of polar bears, twins Sakari and Suka.
In June, two new Somali wild asses moved in, welcomed to town by Barriques coffee shop's Wild Ass Coffee blend.
Next year, the Dane County budget includes $500,000 for bathrooms and improvements, as well as a new zookeeper position funded by revenue from the Arctic Passage.
The new year will also bring more additions to the animal population, including a young male harbor seal and an adult female orangutan.
The zoo is open every day from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. On holidays, it will be open from 9:30 a.m. to noon.