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Bringing the Bears Back to Madison!

Arctic Passage, which broke ground in March of 2014, is the biggest renovation the Henry Vilas Zoo has ever undertaken. It provides guests with many exciting features, including special conservation and sustainability components, our zoo's first indoor restaurant (The Glacier Grille), and beautiful new exhibits for bears and seals.

About Arctic Passage 

Anyone that has visited our zoo in the past few years, prior to construction, has noticed that our bear grottos stood empty, and that this once bustling area of the zoo had grown quiet. These enclosures were last updated in 1980, and quite simply did not meet today's standards of care for these impressive animals. This area needed to be updated to today's animal care standards, and it was our vision to transform it so we could bring the bears back to Madison and continue our evolution as a zoo and conservation organization.

Arctic Passage features habitats that resemble the Arctic of the polar bears, the Pacific Ocean of the harbor seals, and the great west of the grizzly bears. By creating these environments in Madison, our zoo can help protect the future of these animals and their habitats in the wild by educating our guests about the great challenges these magnificent animals face.


  • Large naturalistic environments for polar bears, grizzly bears, and harbor seals
  • Fun, interactive educational features for guests
  • Sustainability features such as rainwater catchment and solar panels
  • See the seals swim underwater, the polar bears sleep in their den, or a grizzly bear catch a fish from a stream!

This project, which has transformed over 1.7 acres of the Henry Vilas Zoo, is essential to the future of our zoo.

Polar Bear Update

The Henry Vilas Zoo will welcome two and a half year-old polar bear twins to the zoo's new Arctic Passage exhibit in time for its grand opening this summer! We worked with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Polar Bear Species Survival Plan (SSP) to bring the polar bears - Suka and Sakari - to their new home in Arctic Passage. After Suka and Sakari arrive, the Henry Vilas Zoo will house two of only 60 polar bears in AZA-accredited zoos in North America. Photo courtesy of Como Zoo. For more info see the full press release.

Grizzly Girls Update
Matching Gift Goal Reached!
We're happy to report that thanks to the generosity of the community, our goal of raising $100,000 by October 31st was reached!

In September we announced who the first bears for the new Arctic Passage will be: two orphaned grizzly bear sisters. To help us complete the grizzly girls' new home, a generous donor challenged the community with a matching gift. Photo courtesy of the Dakota Zoo. Here's the full story about the grizzly sisters.

Thank you to everyone who has donated to help make Arctic Passage a reality!

Donor Wall Gift Recognition

Information on all donor recognition and naming opportunities for Arctic Passage is available by calling Friends of the Henry Vilas Zoo at (608) 258-9490. All donations at the $250 level and above will also be recognized on our Arctic Passage Donor Wall as spaces remain available. Donations received after March 10th 2015 are not guaranteed to be included on the donor wall by the opening of Arctic Passage. Donor wall recognition for "Small Water Drops" (donations of $250) and "Halibut Helpers" (donations of $2,500-$9,999) are no longer available but there are still some places remaining at the other giving levels. For questions and assistance about the donor wall, please contact Shelly Torkelson at or (608)258-9490.