Documents show animal welfare concerns at Henry Vilas Zoo, harassment complaints against director

'No basis for discipline' found against director
Documents show animal welfare concerns at Henry Vilas Zoo, harassment complaints against director

Documents released by Dane County this week in light of an ongoing dispute over the operations of the Henry Vilas Zoo show a zoo accreditation agency had concerns with animal welfare around the same time complaints were raised against the zoo’s director.

Dane County runs the zoo, and recently announced it’s ending its longtime partnership with the Henry Vilas Zoological Society, the nonprofit organization that supports and raises money for the zoo, after 10 months of failed contract negotiations. The county’s complaints with the organization included the way it collected and spent money, along with the number of positions it hired.

Dane County officials are seeking a new partnership, expressing concerns that HVZS proposals to stage “animal trainings” and exercise control over zoo operations put the zoo’s accreditation at risk.

In a report from last year, the Association of Zoos & Aquariums listed animals spending too much time in small or sparse areas and insufficient veterinary coverage among its “major concerns” at the zoo.

According to Josh Wescott of the Dane County Executive’s Office, nine of the 13 areas of concern have been addressed, and the four that remain center on the need for additional staff, which the county is working to hire now. The zoo currently is AZA accredited.

Other county documents show the county found “no basis for discipline at this time” against the zoo’s director after the attorney for the HVZS alleged the zoo’s executive director engaged in inappropriate conduct.

Dane County documents say in late fall, the HVZS sent the county concerns, including the allegation that Henry Vilas Zoo executive director Ronda Schwetz used derogatory, sexually explicit language toward HVZS staff.

According to a county memorandum dated Monday, an investigation into the allegations found “Schwetz’s explanations were credible.”

Documents say the HVZS also raised concerns about a zoo researcher who is not employed by the county. That researcher’s name was not included, but an investigation is ongoing.

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.

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