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Bear Bronze Statue
Bear Bronze Statue

History of the Little Rock Zoological Gardens

The Little Rock Zoo brought wildlife to the citizens of Arkansas in 1924. Today, the Little Rock Zoo has over 400 animals representing over 100 different species including mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and invertebrates.. For years, we have created engaging experiences that inspire people to value and conserve our natural world. Below is a timeline of some of the ways we’ve moved forward in our mission of conservation learning.

  • 1926    City of Little Rock creates the Little Rock Zoo
  • 1927    Buffalo exhibit built at Fair Park Zoo
  • 1932    Zoo renamed Fair Park Zoological Garden
  • 1934    Big Cat Building (Lion House) completed
  • 1936    New monkey house WPA project completed
  • 1937    New cat house WPA project completed
    • Zoo acquires Ruth the elephant
  • 1939    Zoo renamed Fair Park Zoo
  • 1940    First chimpanzees “Dagwood and Blondie” arrived
  • 1948    City renames Fair Park War Memorial Park
  • 1952    National Parks and Zoological Convention credits Little Rock with having one of the most outstanding zoos in the country for cities with less than 250,000 residents 
    • “Big Arkie,” the largest alligator found in the United States, measuring 13 feet and weighing 459 pounds, was captured by Zoo staff and St. Louis Zoo Director, Marlin Perkins
  • 1954    Zoo acquires Ellen the elephant
  • 1956    Little Rock Civitan Club dedicates new Kiddie Zoo
  • 1959    Zoo remodels the monkey house
  • 1960    Zoo makes accommodations for a new steam locomotive No. 101 placed in front of the Lion House
  • 1962    Interstate I-630 Expressway ramp built and cuts off zoo from southward expansion and eliminates portions of the Civitan Kiddie Zoo, duck pond and other small animal exhibits
  • 1965    Zoo constructs bear and other small animal exhibits
  • 1967    Zoo constructs fox and wolf dens
  • 1970    Big Arkie passes away
  • 1971    Zoo completes three large projects:  monkey island, chimpanzee island and exotic bird house enclosure
  • 1972    Zoo holds first Zoo Days event
  • 1974    Association of Zoos and Aquariums begins accreditation program
  • 1975    Zoo Docent education volunteer program established
  • 1968    New entry complex constructed featuring new turnstiles to count visitors and two enclosed office buildings
  • 1973    New Zoo nursery opens, funded by the Little Rock Civitan Club
  • 1980    Big cat exhibit opened, housing tigers and jaguars
  • 1981    Zoo implements the Species Survival Plan (SSP) program
    • Zoo charges first admission fees
  • 1988    Zoo opens new Great Ape habitat held Spectacular EscAPE event with Jack Hanna to celebrate
  • 1991    Zoo renews accreditation with AZA
    • Snortin’ Norton the sloth bear born
  • 1992    Zoo hosts first Boo at the Zoo event
  • 1993    Zoo acquires Fossey the gorilla from the Columbus Zoo
  • 1997    Zoo opens new Lemur Island exhibiting Ring Tail, Black and Red-Ruffed Lemurs
  • 1998    Zoo opens third exhibit in the Big Cat Display to hold African Lions. 
    • Opening of Civitan Ampitheater
    • Great ape exhibit opens, exhibiting gorillas, orangutans and chimpanzees
  • 1999    Zoo hires new Director, Michael E. Blakely and is changed from a division of Parks and Recreation to an individual City department.  An advisory board of nine members appointed by the Mayor called the Zoo Board of Governors is formed.
    • Zoo assumes operations of the gift shop, café, membership program and education programs. 
    • Children’s farm opens complete with a new train station and 22 new farm animals.
  • 2000    Elephant exhibit modifications completed, allowing for the addition of a second elephant
    • Guest Services Division was created
  • 2001   Little Rock Zoo regains accreditation from the prestigious Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)
  • 2002    Completed renovations to giraffe exhibit and built viewing deck
  • 2003    The City of Little Rock passed a bond election giving the Little Rock Zoo $4.6 million in funding.  Projects include new front entry plaza, gift shop and offices,
    Lorikeet Landing, and 29 other improvements throughout the Zoo.
    • Zoo expands elephant habitat
    • Arkansas Zoological Foundation Established
  • 2004    Two new female gorillas arrive from the Toronto Zoo
    • Thor and Tasha the sloth bears born at the Little Rock Zoo
  • 2005    Opened “Naked Mole Rat” Exhibit
  • 2006    Grizzly bear habitat remodeled
    • Zoo Foundation launches Wild Wines of the World event
    • Zoo’s first baby Gorilla, Mosi, born
  • 2007    Completed $4.6 million in bond projects
    • Opened New Café Africa renovation of old cat house
    • “Over the Jumps” The Arkansas Carousel donated to Zoo by Friends of the Carousel and opened to the public 
    • Opened new Lorikeet exhibit
  • 2009    Zoo hosts first Hiland Dairy Dollar Day
    • Opened the African Savannah exhibit
  • 2010    Time capsule installed in Over-the-Jumps Carousel
    • Opened the remodeled and expanded Elephant exhibit to hold up to four elephants
  • 2011    Laura P. Nichols Penguin Pointe Exhibit opened
    • Zoo Foundation hosts first Zoo Brew event
  • 2012    Laura P. Nichols Cheetah Outpost
    • Hired first full-time Veterinarian
    • Second baby gorilla, Adelina, born
    • Zoo’s accreditation with AZA renewed
  • 2013    Birth of Four Malayan Tigers at Zoo
  • 2014    Opened new “Diamond Express” Train purchased by the Arkansas Zoological Foundation
    • New Green House constructed
    • Birth of two Maned Wolves
  • 2015    Remodeled the Reticulate python exhibit
    • Baby chimpanzee, Jumoke, born
  • 2016    Arkansas Heritage Farm Opened to the Public
    • Susan Altrui becomes Director of the Little Rock Zoo, the first female director of the Zoo and the youngest female director of an AZA accredited zoo
  • 2017    Little Rock Zoo is reaccredited again by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums
  • 2018    Third baby gorilla, Bukavu, born at Little Rock Zoo
    • Zoo breaks ground on a new Colobus Monkey and Serval Cat habitat
  • 2019    Trudy the gorilla dies at the age of 63 and holds the record as the oldest gorilla living in human care in the world

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Memberships support the Zoo's efforts to promote conservation and education. It is the perfect way to benefit humans and animals, alike!

Little Rock Zoo

1 Zoo Drive
Little Rock, AR 72205


Hours of Operation
9 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Last admission 3:30 p.m.
Zoo grounds close at 4:00 pm

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