It’s the end of an era at the Milwaukee County Zoo. Director Chuck Wikenhauser is retiring April 1, 2021 after 31 years. He’s been director since 1990, making him the longest-serving director of the facility.
During that time, the zoo has undergone plenty of changes. Wikenhauser focusing most of his energy on conservation and the propagation of species, animal welfare, and enrichment during his tenure.
All of that work came with a price tag.
There have been over $120 million in capital improvement at the zoo over the last 3 decades.
“It cost a lot to maintain the kind of infrastructure that we have out here and the Zoological Society of Milwaukee has raised a considerable amount of money along with the county to keep our facilities up to date and to build new things as accreditation standards change,” said Wikenhauser.
President and CEO of the Zoological Society of Milwaukee Jodi Gibson says Wikenhauser’s impact at the Zoo has been immeasurable.
She explains some of the renovations that have taken place since 1990.
“Big cat, to the aviary, to our most recent project Adventure Africa which will transform 25% of the develop footprint of the zoo and really transform one of the oldest parts of the zoo that was built in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. So, he (Wikenhauser) is leaving a great legacy that includes in the past 2 years alone, the unveiling of a brand new elephant exhibit, a state of the art facility, as well as an underwater hippo exhibit,” said Gibson.
Milwaukee County Zoo public relations coordinator Jenny Diliberti has worked at the zoo for 23 years and says one of the biggest changes during Wikenhauser’s time there, is the concentration on animal welfare.
“I think the number one thing that Chuck really had a hand in, again along with our donors, the (zoological) society, is just making it better for the animals, the visitors of course, but the animals really came first with him,” Diliberti said.
Although Wikenhauser will leave some big shoes to fill, the future of the zoo is set up for success after his retirement.
The zoo is in the process of interviewing candidates for director from all over the country.
So what does the future of the zoo look like?
“In the coming years, the next thing we hope to see is the transformation of our rhino exhibit and also continue to build out and indoor hippo exhibit, open up a pathway in the back of the zoo and finish up our Adventure Africa exhibit. From there, we were able to build a 20 year master plan that really takes section by section the different pieces of the zoo,” Gibson said.
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