New Little Rock Zoo director plans to increase species survival efforts

Susan Altrui is the new director at the Little Rock Zoo, one of the state’s most popular attractions.

Arkansas’ only accredited zoo, the Little Rock Zoo opened 91 years ago, with only an abandoned timber wolf and a circus-trained bear. It now has 700 animals and attracts about 300,000 visitors each year.

The zoo is a major part of the state’s tourism scene, and City Manager Bruce T. Moore said in a press release the aim is to raise its profile.

“Our goal is for the Little Rock Zoo to become one of the top mid-sized city zoos in the country,” Moore said. “Susan is the person to get us there because of her experience, dedication and vision.”

Altrui has worked for the zoo since 2005 and succeeds Mike Blakely, who retired from the position in October after 17 years. She started as the director of marketing and development and executive director of the Arkansas Zoological Foundation and in July 2015 became the zoo’s assistant director.

She developed several successful fundraisers, including Zoo Brew and the annual Wild Wines event and led fundraising efforts for the Laura P. Nichols Penguin Pointe exhibit, the Laura P. Nichols Cheetah Outpost, Diamond Express Train and the Arkansas Heritage Farm exhibit, which opened in April, according to the press release. Altrui also served as project manager for a new master plan and strategic plan for the zoo,

Altrui holds a master’s degree in applied studies in communication from Colorado State University and earned her bachelor’s degree from Arkansas State University

“I’m ready to work hard with our city leaders, staff, volunteers, board members and other members of the community to grow and develop our zoo,” Altrui said, according to the release. “The zoo is a place that nurtures our passion for animals and encourages respect for all living things. It’s a place where learning lives.

“We will help cultivate the next generation of biologists, wildlife scientists and conservationists,” she said.

The Little Rock Zoo is part of the AZA Species Survival Plan, aimed at saving threatened/endangered species through cooperative breeding. As director, Altrui said she intends to grow the zoo’s work in that area, particularly with conservation education.

The zoo now offers access to 200 different species and many of those are endangered.

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