Zoo head leaves after complaint letter to the city

Investigates

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The President and CEO of the Great Plains Zoo in Sioux Falls is no longer in charge of the facility.

Elizabeth Whealy joined the zoo in 2005 to keep the zoo afloat after issues with funding and upkeep.

KELOLAND’s Angela Kennecke has just confirmed Whealy is no longer with the zoo.

Jeff Hugunin, Chair of the Board of the Zoological Society of Sioux Falls, says Whealy has left the facility to pursue other opportunities. Whealy confirms she has resigned.

Submitted Photo

A couple of weeks ago, every Sioux Falls city counselor and the mayor got an anonymous letter. It was also given to the zoo board and appeared to be from employees at the zoo.  

The letter alleges that Whealy has a “bullying management style” and that her employees are “afraid to speak up because of her lashing out.”

The employees asked for a new leader at the zoo.

KELOLAND Investigates has learned that issues at the zoo, especially turnover, were pointed out to the zoo’s board as far back as 2015.

The City of Sioux Falls currently puts $1.6 million a year into the zoo and is planning to put another $350,000 into improvements at the zoo in 2024.  

According to the 2018 Parks and Recreation Annual report, the zoo welcomed 271,280 patrons in 2018. That’s down from 2017, when 301,542 patrons visited.

Tuesday evening, Whealy told KELOLAND’s Don Jorgensen in a text message that she has resigned from her position at the zoo. Whealy added that she isn’t able to comment further.

Hugunin says the zoo plans to issue a formal news release about her departure.

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