Milwaukee County Zoo director Chuck Wikenhauser to retire

Chuck Wikenhauser

Chuck Wikenhauser, director of the Milwaukee County Zoo, announced he is retiring in April after 31 years with the organization.

Wikenhauser began his tenure at the zoo in January 1990, making him its longest-serving director.

In an announcement Wednesday, the zoo credited Wikenhauser with strengthening its role in conservation and the propagation of species, animal welfare and enrichment.

“Working at the Milwaukee County Zoo has been a huge part of my life’s work, and it’s my hope that throughout my time here, we, as an institution, continued to evolve to meet the needs of the animals in our care and the audiences we served,” said Wikenhauser.

Wikenhauser spearheaded his first capital program in the 1990s and a second program in the 2000s, which included the extensive renovation of the Herb & Nada Family Aviary and the Primates of the World, and the completion of a new Stearns Family Apes of Africa facility. Other capital projects included the Animal Health Center and Karen Peck Katz Conservation Education Center, renovations to the Big Cat building, and the completion of the Northwestern Mutual Family Farm, Stackner Animal Encounter building, Ida Wilmot Borchert Flamingo Overlook and the U.S. Bank Gathering Place.

Under Wikenhauser’s leadership, the public-private partnership between the Zoological Society of Milwaukee and the Milwaukee County Zoo grew, which helped fund projects and strengthen the overall mission of the zoo, the organization said.

“The totality of Chuck’s contributions to our Zoo and our community are immeasurable. He cemented the Zoo’s position as an industry-leader, world-class institution and one of the most beloved and visited family attractions in the area,” said Jodi Gibson, Zoological Society president and CEO. “Chuck’s passion for wildlife and conservation is inspiring and working with him was an honor and highlight in my career at the Zoological Society.”

The zoo initiated a new 20-year master plan in 2016, which calls for major renovations of existing areas and construction of new animal areas and facilities. Some of those include a new outdoor bonobo habitat, Otter Passage, and the Adventure Africa Exhibit. Phase 1 of Adventure Africa, an elephant and mixed species exhibit, opened in 2019. Phase II, the Dohmen Family Foundation Hippo Haven, opened in summer 2020. Planning for Phase III, the Rhino Exhibit, is underway and construction is planned for 2023.

The zoo has not yet named Wikenhauser’s successor.

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