Seal of Dane County County of Dane
County Executive's Office

County Executive Joe Parisi Zoo Statement

March 26, 2019
Ariana Vruwink 608-267-8823
County Executive

Earlier today, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi held a press conference to provide an update on the Henry Vilas Zoo. He gave the following remarks:


“You’ve heard and read a lot about the Henry Vilas Zoo the past ten days.  And it’s led to the logical question—what does it all mean?


“The most direct and important answer to that question is that the Henry Vilas Zoo experience that families, including my own, have enjoyed for generations will not change, and the zoo will remain free—as it always has been and always will be.


“The changes taking place—those that have been making news, are all behind the scenes, and have to do with which model and which support organization will be used to help with fundraising into the future.


“The experience of coming to the zoo will remain the same. 


“The people standing with me today are your zoo team—our amazing, dedicated county staff, who will continue their mission of running what is arguably the best free zoo in the country.


“They are committed to species survival at a time when challenges like climate change and loss of habitat are testing entire populations of mammals, fish and birds.


“They are committed to conservation and education – helping kids learn about the planet we all share.


“While they continue their important work, I, the County Board, and our team will be doing our part to ensure that our zoo remains American Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited.


“Tonight, the Public Works Committee will be voting on a resolution that will insure our AZA accreditation and that everything on-grounds remains the same. 


“This resolution adds nine staff to take care of our giraffes and other animals we are able to have here at the Henry Vilas Zoo because of our AZA accreditation.


“We will also be engaging a national expert to serve as a consultant in choosing a team of outside experts to advise us on national best practices on which to model the most effective future partnership between the zoo and it’s next fundraising partner.


“There are many opinions in our community about what our fundraising partnership should look like and who should perform that function.


“That question will best be answered through a thoughtful, deliberate process that relies on experts in the field to advise us on our best options and the best fit for our unique zoo.


“Continuing to do something one way just because that’s the way we’ve always done it, is not how we should be doing business.


“We will engage in this process because at the end of the day, I have a responsibility to my community – a responsibility to do what’s best for our zoo, not necessarily what’s easiest.


“And if we are going to do what’s best for our zoo – best for our community, we must step back, look at national best practices, and move forward in a well-researched, well-reasoned manner.


“Our commitment to the Henry Vilas Zoo reflects the values of our community. In addition to providing a fun and informative place for families to gather, we are committed to furthering the work of species survival, conservation and education, and addressing climate change.


“The work done at our zoo reaches throughout our community and across the planet – with staff who are internationally recognized for their expertise in species survival.


“I’m proud of our zoo; I’m proud of the people who work here.  They come to work every day and work tirelessly because of their love for our animals, and their commitment to our mission.


“We are incredibly fortunate to have the Henry Vilas Zoo in our backyard—the zoo I came to as a child, the zoo I brought my children to, and the zoo that will remain a special place for families for generations to come.”

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