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Dane County’s Henry Vilas Zoo Retains National Zoo Expert Who Has Done Work for AZA to Advise Fundraising Transition

March 25, 2019
Ariana Vruwink 608-267-8823
County Executive

                   Henry Vilas Zoo Says “Thank You,” Announces Free Carousel Rides Through April


Dane County’s Henry Vilas Zoo has selected Mike Gill, a national consultant with more than 40 years of experience in the zoo and aquarium field, to advise the Zoo during its fundraising transition period. Additionally, the Zoo announced this morning that as an expression of gratitude to the community’s continuing support of the Zoo, carousel rides through the entire month of April will be free.


Gill has worked on roughly 80 zoo and aquarium projects—including the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Milwaukee County Zoo, Shedd Aquarium, Bronx Zoo, and Central Park Wildlife Center. Michael T. Gill Visitor Services Consultant, LLC will work with Dane County’s Henry Vilas Zoo to facilitate a request for proposal process to secure a potential fundraising partner. The Zoological Society that’s currently in place has been encouraged to participate in that process and the county has expressed its hopes the Society will consider this as part of ongoing dialogue about what the future may hold.


Gill will assist the Zoo in choosing a team of outside experts to advise the Zoo on national best practices for the most effective partnerships between zoos and groups that support them. He has worked on several master plans for zoos and aquariums—including the Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort in the United Arab Emirates, Granby Zoological Gardens in Canada, and the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C. He previously worked with the Henry Vilas Zoo in the early 2000s to provide operational review of food and gift operations with recommendations for short and long-term improvements.


“We look forward to having Mike Gill come back to the Henry Vilas Zoo and provide his expertise during this transition period,” said Joseph Darcangelo, Deputy Director of the Zoo. “This framework the team develops will help guide us when we establish a relationship with a future fundraising partner.”


It is important a structure be put in place to ensure the best cooperative relationship possible between the Zoo and any future support organization, given some of the issues uncovered in the past several weeks. Working with Gill to identify the correct partners to provide the best structure of what a fundraising relationship could look like will be informed by the expert partners and the team recommendations for next steps.


When all aspects of this process are complete, Dane County’s Henry Vilas Zoo will have in-depth information on the best practices of structuring a relationship between a publicly-funded, free zoo and a support organization. The county will review structures and relationships of comparable zoos and their support organizations, and identification of publicly-owned zoos that are comparable to the Henry Vilas Zoo. A review of the corporate organizational structure and financial success of support organizations at comparable zoos will be done, along with analysis of the channels of financial support between comparable zoos and their respective support organizations.


The next time the county will review a proposal from the Society will be after the team of outside professionals has issued their recommendations, and a report has been issued. This will be done as part of a public, competitive process.


Dane County and representatives of the Society met for nearly seven hours last week and discussed continuing the dialogue moving forward. Dane County is seeking the Society’s assistance with providing Zoo staff access to the Zoo’s website (, its social media accounts, and other operational issues important to a seamless transition that protects the Zoo as an institution, its animals, and visitors.

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