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County Executive's Office

Henry Vilas Zoo Mourns the Passing of Gracie the Rhinoceros

July 11, 2012
Casey Slaughter Becker, Office of the County Executive 608.267.8823 cell, 608.843.8858 or Ronda Schwetz, Henry Vilas Zoo Director, 608.266.4943.
County Executive

Gracie and Mate George Two of the Oldest, Longest-Term Residents of Zoo


The Henry Vilas Zoo is mourning the loss of Gracie, the 41 year old white rhinoceros, one of its oldest and longest-term residents, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced today.


“For most of my life, Gracie and her mate George have been iconic animals at Henry Vilas Zoo,” said Parisi.  “She will be dearly missed by my family and the thousands of other families that have grown up along with her over the last four decades.”


Gracie was diagnosed with a uterine tumor in 2001, and has been under close veterinary monitoring and treatment.  This week her health took a turn for the worse, and animal care staff made the difficult decision to humanely euthanize Gracie due to her deteriorating health and comfort.


Beloved by zoo staff and visitors, Gracie arrived at Henry Vilas Zoo in 1976.  Together with her mate George, the pair held the distinction of not only being long-time residents of Henry Vilas Zoo, but of being some of the oldest white rhinos in Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited zoos. 


White rhinos typically only live 20-30 years in the wild.  Due to excellent care in  zoos they have an expectancy into their mid – 30’s. Both Gracie and George at Henry Vilas Zoo have far surpassed even AZA zoo life expectancy due to the excellent care received by Henry Vilas Zoo staff.    


The zoo has been at the cutting edge of rhino reproductive studies.  Partnering with world rhino  experts, Henry Vilas Zoo was the first zoo in North America to build a chute to allow reproductive examinations over 11 years ago.

“Gracie is one of those special animals at our zoo that was loved by everyone who worked with her, and in turn, she was deeply bonded with the zoo staff, often coming up to get treats or to interact with us,” said Henry Vilas Zoo Director Ronda Schwetz.  “Gracie was a big part of the zoo’s history and was visited by generations of children and families.”


Schwetz added that Gracie’s mate, George, is holding up well and is getting lots of extra attention from staff during this difficult time.


The Henry Vilas Zoo is working with The American Zoo and Aquarium Association’s White Rhinoceros Species Survival Program to find a new female white  rhinoceros  to pair with George.