Zoo illustration

Editor's note: Well, something is going on at the zoo. News broke about the Dane County Board of Supervisors calling for the firing of the Henry Vilas Zoo director after this story's press time.

Simon and Garfunkel may not have had Henry Vilas Zoo in mind when they sang, “Someone told me it’s all happening at the zoo” on their acclaimed album “Bookends,” but it still seems a reasonably accurate answer to this month’s Good Question. Over the last five years or so, a lot has indeed happened at Henry Vilas Zoo. There are the obvious physical improvements and added events that have kept the zoo a prominent Dane County amenity. But the question also acknowledges the county’s 2019 power struggle with the Henry Vilas Zoological Society over accreditation issues, including control of revenue from the society’s fundraising, concession sales and special events, leading to a separation of the two entities after a 105-year relationship. That was followed last year by allegations from some zoo workers of favoritism, racism and retaliation against union activity — accusations that led to not one, but two formal investigations, the conclusions to both finding no evidence of discrimination. After all that, we’re still left with the original question: “What’s going on at the zoo?”

Contributing Writer

Neil Heinen is the former editorial director at WISC-TV, as well as Madison Magazine where he is currently a contributing writer. He is a member of the advisory board for the University of Wisconsin School of Journalism and Mass Communications Center for Journalism Ethics. He and his wife Nancy live, work, write, walk and eat in Madison.