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Meet the Locals

2023 is the year we invite you to Meet the Locals! Beginning in March, we will be honoring local species that you can find in and around Arkansas.  We will also highlight the representatives of those species here.  We hope to d encourage YOU to participate in the conservation of these wonderful animals. 

The schedule will go like this:

March – Raptors 

April – Collared Lizards

May – Bears & Box Turtles 

June – Pollinators 

July – Snakes 

August – Alligator 

September – Vulture

October– Opossum

November – Foxes 

December – Otters 

March Spotlight: Raptors 

There are several species of raptors native to Arkansas. Some of the ones that we house at the Little Rock Zoo include: Bald Eagles, Red Tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Screech Owl, Barn Owl, Great Horned Owl, and Barred Owl.

  • We have 2 Ambassador Bald Eagles the Zoo.  Griffin, who is 7 years old, and Lynn who is 29 years old. Both were injured in the wild and were unable to be re-released, so now live with us to help educate the public about their wild counterparts.  Bald Eagles are one of the few animals to ever come off of the endangered species list, so they are not only a symbol for our country, but a symbol of what we humans can do when we work together to protect wildlife! Lynn is brave, bold, and outspoken, while Griffin can be shy and timid until he warms up to his handlers.
  • We have one American Kestrel named Petri. This is the smallest species of falcon native to Arkansas.  The fastest animal in the world is a falcon (the peregrine falcon) which can reach speeds of over 200mph!  Falcons have a “malar stripe” which is a dark stripe below their eyes (like football players use) to reduce the sun’s glare when hunting. Petri is small but very sassy and outspoken!
  • Red Tailed Hawks are the largest species of hawk native to Arkansas. They use their incredible eyesight to spot prey.  We have two ambassador Red Tailed hawks, Jinx (10 years old) and Sadie (29 years old).  These hawks are thought to live no more than around 20 years even in captivity (even less in the wild), so Sadie is our resident old lady!  Sadie is a favorite raptor among most of her caretakers because of her calm, laid back disposition.  Both were injured in the wild, which is why they live with us.
  • There are four owl species native to Arkansas year-round, and we have those four here. There are only two species of owl in AR that “hoot”, so if you hear an owl hooting, you can narrow it down to a Great Horned or a Barred Owl. Owls have some of the best hearing of any animal in the animal kingdom, which they rely on to sneak up on prey in the dark.  They also have the ability of completely silent flight!  Our ambassador owls are Lincoln (Great Horned Owl), Otis (Screech Owl), Willow (Barred Owl), and Bellatrix (Barn Owl).  We also have two Barn owls on exhibit at the AR Heritage Farm (Soren and Minerva)
  • The Zoo has been working with raptors for more than 20 years.
  • Our Zoo has worked closely with Raptor Rehab of Central Arkansas in the past to rehome animals that are non-releasable

April Spotlight: Collared Lizards

Collared Lizards are native to Arkansas and are found around northwest Arkansas in glade habitats, which are clearings or open areas within a forest. Because of habitat loss, they are a species of conservation concern in Arkansas.

  • The Little Rock Zoo has had this species since 2021. 
  • The Zoo has partnered with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, the University of Arkansas, and the University of Central Arkansas on a breeding and reintroduction program for this species.
  • The Zoo had 3 hatchlings in the first year in the program, 2021, but the second year, there were more than 50 hatchlings! Several are due to be released back into the wild in spring 2022.

May Spotlight: Bears & Box Turtles 

Box Turtles:

While Arkansas is home to 16 species of turtle, only two are land dwellers, this includes the three-toed box turtle and the ornate box turtle. The Little Rock Zoo provides a home to both species of Arkansas box turtles.  Our box turtle habitat is located down by the farm and train depot. 

Little Rock Zoo first started caring for our box turtle group around 40 years ago. We received a few rescued animals that could not be rehomed or released back to the wild in the 1980s. While we no longer take in new animals, if you do find an animal in need of help, please contact local rehabilitators. 

Our group has been quite self-sufficient over the years as we allowed them to live as naturally as they would in the wild.  This includes them being able to stay outside all year round allowing them to do a natural “brumation”, which is the reptile version of hibernation, they also hunt for bugs and vegetation, and they create their own burrows.  They have multiplied over the last 40 years and we now have over 20 individuals living within the habitat.  Turtles have lots of personality and get very excited on feeding days.  Often they come out of their burrows to follow the keepers, they absolutely love days they get worms!  Several individuals are very curious by nature so will regularly come investigate what their keepers are up to even if it’s not a feeding time.

The three-toed box turtle is found throughout Arkansas in grassland and woodland habitats; they are most common of the state and the only one you will naturally encounter here in Little Rock.  The ornate box turtle is much more restricted in its distribution and abundance. It prefers prairie and grassland habitats, which are not as common in Arkansas anymore. Most records of ornate box turtles’ presence have come from a few northwestern and central counties. This means that ornate box turtles are very rare and subject to extinction here. For that reason, state law prohibits keeping them as pets.

Box turtles are the only turtles in North America with a flexible hinge on their belly to close the front and rear halves of the shell tightly like a “box”, which is where they get their name.  Those protective shells help box turtles live long lives. Research from herpetologists have learned that three-toed box turtles can often survive 60 to 70 years, and there are a few records of centenarians. That makes them among the longest-lived wild animals in Arkansas.  Ornate box turtles regularly reach around 30 to 40 years of age.

If you come across a box turtle in the wild it is important to know a few things to help our friendly neighborhood turtles remain safe.  First, if you happen to see a box turtle on the road and can do so at no risk to your own safety, move it to the side of the road it was traveling.  If you move it back to the direction it was coming from originally they will likely just cross the road again after you leave. 

Second, it is important that you do not collect the animal and try to relocate to what you might believe to be a safer region.  There are two reasons for this, first box turtles live within a home range of about 10-14 acres. They have a very strong homing instinct, and, if removed from this home range, they are capable of making long-distance journeys back to their original home range.  This may mean they wander in an attempt to return to their original territory.  If a turtle is displaced many miles from its original home range it will likely never be able to return, especially if it must cross roadways, increasing the probability of them being run over by vehicles.  Another major concern for releasing box turtles into a different location is that the new turtle can also be carrying a disease that could infect otherwise healthy local turtles. 

Finally, if you come across box turtles in your neighborhood some people may want to find a way to identify individuals, but people often will try painting the animals.  Unfortunately, painting or coloring a shell can be harmful.  Some paints can be toxic, they can prevent absorption of sunlight needed for the turtle’s metabolism, or even prevent the turtle from growing naturally, if the hard coat of paint prevents the plates on the shell from being shed as the turtle grows. Paints or glued-on decorations also can make a turtle stand out to potential predators. 

Box turtles are a joy to see in the wild, and because they are slow moving and have such great temperaments it is one of the few species people will often choose to interact.  Just be a good neighbor and leave them in their homes so they can thrive and be around for others to enjoy for years to come! 


The Little Rock Zoo has had bears since the early years when it first opened.  These early bears were American black bears.  The Little Rock Zoo does not currently exhibit American black bear, but we feel it is very important to promote education about them and living safely with them to ensure their survival in the future.

Arkansas was once known as the bear state, but due to overhunting, black bears were almost gone from the state by the early 1900s.  In 1958 the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission began a program to reintroduce black bears to the state.  This program has been very successful and today over 3000 black bears make Arkansas their home.  In Arkansas, American black bears are mostly found in the Ozark Highlands area, the Ouachita National Forest and the Lower White River Basin, but they are beginning to spread out to other areas of the state.

The Zoo currently exhibits sloth bears and a grizzly bear. 

The Zoo once had two grizzly bears, Ann and Nona, who were removed from the Bob Marshal Wilderness area in Montana as juveniles in 1992 because their mother taught them to find food in campsites.  This human-bear conflict is what Bear Awareness is all about; learning to live safely with bears so they can remain wild.  The girls came to the Zoo in 1993 and were estimated to be 34 years old at the time of this writing.  They have slowed down a lot in their golden years, but Nona continued to be more active and curious than her sister.  Ann was always quieter and preferred to just chill out in the pool during the hot summers or lay around on exhibit.  They both slept the winter away in their dens as they would in the wild.  With age, they didn't wear down their nails as much as when they were younger, so Zoo staff would occasionally trim them.  Both bears were trained to present their feet through the mesh of the den door allowing a trim to their nails while they getting a treat.

Sadly, our sweet Nona passed away in April of this year. 

The Zoo currently has 3 sloth bears, Khali , Sahaasa and Pabu. 

Khali, our female is 24 years old and prefers to enjoy peace and quiet most of the year away from the boys.  She likes to build large nests to sleep in during the winter and in the warmer months can often be seen sunning out on her exhibit.

Sahaasa is 10 years old and Pabu at 6 is Sahaasa’s younger brother.  They get along great most of the time enjoying playing together.  As with most brothers occasionally they have disagreements, but those are short lived and they are quickly back to wrestling in fun.

Sloth bears have special adaptations for their diet of ants and termites.  Their long claws help open termite mounds and their loose floppy lips allow them to blow the dirt away and then suck up the insects like a vacuum through a gap in their teeth.  This sucking noise can be heard up to 200 yards away!  Their long shaggy hair helps protect them from insect bites and stings.  They are native to India and Sri Lanka where the weather is hot just like Arkansas so the heat is not a problem for them and that long hair is actually very loose helping keep them cool.

June: Pollinators 

A pollinator is an animal that moves pollen from a male flower to a female flower.

Insects are the major pollinators of most plants, and insect pollinators include all families of bees and most families of aculeate wasps; ants; many families of flies; many butterflies and moths); and many families of beetles. Vertebrates, mainly bats and birds, but also some non-bat mammals (monkeys, lemurs, possums, rodents) and some lizards pollinate certain plants. Among the pollinating birds are hummingbirds, honeyeaters and sunbirds with long beaks; they pollinate a number of deep-throated flowers. 

Cited from Wikipedia

July: Snakes

  • There are around 36 species of snakes in Arkansas, and only 6 are venomous. Even if you aren’t a fan of snakes, they play a critical role in the environment in terms of pest control. Even venomous snakes play this important role, and some venoms are even being used in research to cure cancer! If you ever see a snake in the wild, the best thing to do is leave it alone and let it go about its day!
  • The zoo has worked with them since the dawn of time.
  • The zoo works with the Aruba Island Rattlesnake Species survival plan. (see my previous write up for facebook for more information on this).
  • Some of the AR native snakes you’ll see in our collection are Speckled King snakes, Rough Green Snakes, and Copperheads.

August: American Alligator

  • American Alligators can be found in AR, mostly in the southern portions of the state. These are prehistoric animals that have barely changed since the time of the dinosaurs.  They have one of the most powerful bites ever recorded in any living animal! Even though they are common around the US now, American Alligators are a conservation success story.  The were once endangered and are one of the few animals to ever come off of the endangered species list!
  • The Zoo donates to the Orianne Society and other organizations for the conservation of reptiles.
  • We have one 15-year-old American Alligator named “Amos”. Amos is a spunky guy who loves to eat! He lives with an Alligator Snapping Turtle named “Bruce” (who is too large for him to eat)

Special Events at the Little Rock Zoo

The Wildest Value in Town!

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Little Rock Zoo

1 Zoo Drive
Little Rock, AR 72205


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Last admission 4 p.m.
Zoo grounds close at 4:30 pm

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