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County Executive's Office

County Executive Selects Ronda Schwetz to Serve as New Director of Henry Vilas Zoo

May 14, 2012
Casey Slaughter Becker, Office of the County Executive 608.267.8823 or cell, 608.843.8858
County Executive

Dane County Native Brings Over Two Decades of Professional Zoological Background, Focus on Primate Preservation, to the Job


Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced today that he has selected Ronda Schwetz to serve as his new Director of the county’s Henry Vilas Zoo.  Schwetz was selected as Deputy Zoo Director in October of 2010, and has been serving as Interim Zoo Director since October of last year.


Schwetz brings over two decades of professional zoological background to the job.  Pending final approval by the Dane County Board, Schwetz will be the county’s first woman Zoo Director.


“Ronda has brought deep experience and tremendous resources to Dane County that have helped transform our zoo for the better,” said Parisi.  “Her commitment to animal preservation, public education, and sustainability on zoo grounds continues to make our zoo a nationally recognized leader in conservation, and a premiere destination for area families to enjoy.”


Schwetz is a Dane County native.  Born and raised in McFarland, her first zoo job was as a Children’s Zoo intern at the Henry Vilas Zoo in 1991.  Schwetz has extensive experience in animal husbandry, conservation and education, particularly with primates. 


As the Primate Area Supervisor for the Denver Zoo, Schwetz was responsible for the health and well-being of 130 animals spanning 30 different species, and started a conservation partnership with Indonesian Orangutan Rehabilitation Centers to help protect the species in several parts of that country.

Schwetz is currently the Field Advisor and on the Steering Committee of the Orangutan Species Survival Plan (SSP).  This year, Schwetz will lead 14 accredited zoo professionals in a workshop on orangutan care and husbandry, as well as provide needed supplies to orangutan rehabilitation centers and zoos in both Malaysia and Borneo.  As Zoo Director, Schwetz will also spend three weeks a year engaging in zoo related professional development working with animals in Africa.


 “I am deeply honored and excited to be chosen as the next Director of the Henry Vilas Zoo,” said Schwetz.  “I have enjoyed working with the many talented people from the county, the Friends of the Zoo, our zoo staff, and from the community, in making our free zoo a place where everyone can connect with and learn about animals from the world over. As we start our zoo’s second century, our focus will be continuing and exceeding the great tradition of excellence in care at Henry Vilas Zoo.”


In addition to her work at the Henry Vilas and Denver Zoos, Schwetz also worked as the Zoological Manager at Rafiki’s Planet Watch in Disney’s Animal Kingdom and was the Head Zoo Keeper at the Irvine Park Zoo in Chippewa Falls from 1992-1998.


Schwetz is dedicated to increasing education and sustainability on zoo grounds.  As Deputy Zoo Director Schwetz expanded the zoo’s education programming to increase variety and access for people of all ages.  Schwetz also worked with former Zoo Director Jim Hubing to open the zoo’s first building – a green powered goat barn – to operate nearly ‘off the grid.’ 


“The Zoological Society staff and Board of Directors are thrilled to welcome Ronda as the new Zoo Director.  She brings an impressive list of credentials and experiences to the Henry Vilas Zoo team, including some amazing field experience in support of Orangutan conservation,” said Tom Dott, President of the Friends of the Zoo.  “We are so fortunate to have found a director with such incredible passion for the species she and her amazing team care for, and look forward to continuing our strong partnership with the operation of our zoo.”


“I’m very happy that Ronda Schwetz will be the new Director of our nationally acclaimed Henry Vilas Zoo,” said Dane County Supervisor and Zoo Commission member Chuck Erickson.  “With Ronda’s extensive experience, transparent management style, and dedication to sustainability, Henry Vilas Zoo will continue to be an outstanding experience for our tens of thousands of visitors each year, and Madison’s Vilas and Greenbush Neighborhoods.”


Pending final approval by the Dane County Board, Schwetz’s starting salary will be $87,500, with her first official day as Zoo Director targeted for June 25th.  Effective January of 2013, Schwetz’s salary will be $92,500.


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