Dane County to part ways with zoo nonprofit, seek new fundraising partner for Henry Vilas Zoo

Dane County to part ways with zoo nonprofit, seek new fundraising partner for Henry Vilas Zoo

Dane County will be parting ways with a zoo nonprofit and seeking a new fundraising partner after 10 months of failed contract negotiations.

The Henry Vilas Zoological Society asked the Dane County Board for a contract extension to return to negotiations over the nonprofit organization’s involvement in zoo operations and fundraising. A new contract between the HVZS and the county has gone unsigned, as the two sides have been unable to reach an agreement on the new terms.

In a letter from Dane County Executive’s Office, chief of staff Josh Wescott wrote to the society saying it is time to move forward and find a new partner to work on fundraising for the zoo.

“Reluctantly, we are at a place where doing what’s in the best interest of the zoo and its animals requires seeking new partners,” Wescott said.

The proposed contract was supposed to replace the current five-year contract that will expire March 31, officials said. The county will award contracts for services in the coming weeks and seek its next fundraising partner.

In the letter, Wescott said the county expects the Zoological Society to compete for a contract.

The county said their main priorities are keeping the zoo free, accessible to all and certifies with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The letter assures that visitors of the zoo will not notice a change.

“The zookeepers and staff at Dane County’s Henry Vilas Zoo are 110 percent committed to making sure those who step through those turnstiles on April 1 will have the same on-grounds experience that families have come to expect from your fabulous free zoo for many decades,” the letter said. “Concession will operate. The Carousel will turn.”

We should also mention that WISC-TV has a joint marketing agreement with the Friends of the Henry Vilas Zoo which includes various things like sponsorship of zoo events and the weather camera that you see on the air.