Favorite

Monkey business 

What’s a dollar buy at the zoo these days?

0110reporter_image1.jpg

Take a trip to a zoo in any of the larger cities a half-day's drive or less from Little Rock — Memphis, Dallas or St. Louis — and you're bound to come down with a case of zoo envy. Modern exhibits, rare and exotic animals, spanking new habitats and announcements of multi-million dollar developments soon to come are often par for the course.

With so much zoological splendor within daytripping distance, it's easy to complain about the cost of admission at the Little Rock Zoo: $8 adults, $6 children, not including drinks and snacks for the entourage. Though 2007 saw those fees put to good use — a new entrance and African Veldt exhibit are in the final stages of completion, and the restored Over the Jumps carousel, once a favorite at War Memorial Amusement Park across the street, is giving rides again near the gate — trying to compare attractions-per-dollar for your entry fee at the Little Rock Zoo and other zoos seems to be strictly an apples-and-oranges exercise. Still, administrators insist, the zoo is both an asset and a bargain, especially given the population of Little Rock and the relatively small amount of taxpayer funding the zoo receives every year.

Mike Blakely has been the director of the Little Rock Zoo for eight years. He said that the Little Rock Zoo doesn't judge itself by looking at the zoos in neighboring states, but against other attractions in Central Arkansas. Comparing admission prices at the Little Rock Zoo and a larger institution like the Memphis Zoo is “unfair,” Blakely said, adding that as a non-profit, the Little Rock Zoo bases its admission price on exactly what it needs to stay open, based on attendance and local subsidies, public and private. “Certainly we look at other zoos, but it isn't what we judge our price on,” Blakely said.

Blakely said that, compared to other zoos, the Little Rock Zoo receives a relatively small portion of its operating budget from the city — about $1.3 million annually. The other $4.6 million required to keep the zoo open and expand exhibits comes from tickets, the zoo gift shop, rides, memberships and the café.

Susan Altrui is the director of marketing and development at the zoo. She said that the Little Rock Zoo is proud of the fact that only about a third of the annual budget comes from the city, and adds that admission prices there are lower than almost any other zoo in the region, save the St. Louis Zoo, which has had free admission by city edict for over 50 years. (Altrui added that even though it has proven a large revenue stream for some other zoos in the region, the Little Rock Zoo doesn't charge for parking unless there's a football game at War Memorial Stadium, which she called “rare”).

“We're going to be working toward being a self-sufficient institution. However, in doing that, it means that we have to make our money somewhere else — in our café, in the gift shop, with the train and the carousel,” Altrui said. “ The zoo is run just like any other business except we don't have a sheer profit motive. We're not trying to make budget cuts or increase prices based on a profit somebody is keeping. It's just the opposite. Any money we have here at the zoo is to offset the cost of operating the zoo.”

Last year, the zoo received the largest gift in its history, over $1 million from the Laura P. Nichols Foundation. Altrui said that the zoo is considered both a separate department in the city of Little Rock and an enterprise fund, which means that any money generated on zoo property stays at the zoo and doesn't go back to the general fund.

“That's very advantageous because it gives us some flexibility in terms of what we do with our budget,” she said, “and it also makes sure we're supporting the zoo and that money people are paying at the zoo isn't going to support the city as a whole.”

Though the Little Rock Zoo is dedicated to expansion and renovation, Altrui said it must be done responsibly. “We can't go out with a master plan and try to take over the entire park and try to make this zoo into something like the San Diego Zoo. We don't have the tax base and the population here to support that. What we have to do is create what we think is the best zoo for this area and try to raise the funds to make that happen.”

One thing that will likely have to happen in coming years is a major expansion of the popular elephant habitat. Altrui said that with changing American Zoo Association guidelines, there is “a strong possibility” that the Little Rock Zoo won't be able to keep elephants on display unless it establishes a breeding program in the next five to 10 years, which means bringing in a bull elephant and providing him enough room to “run around” while in must. That also means a new, larger habitat for the elephants — a use zoo officials have been pushing for the vacant Ray Winder Field next door.

Altrui said that while admission and concession prices at the zoo could be lower, it would only be at the expense of the zoo itself, leading to stagnation of exhibits and attractions. The future aside, Altrui said the Little Rock Zoo is a bargain, even with admissions at their current level.

“The bottom line is, it's still a great value,” she said. “For $8 for adults and $6 for kids — you can't go to a movie for that these days. You're getting a lot more entertainment when you come to the zoo.”

Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

More by David Koon

  • Bonnie Montgomery celebrates the release of her new album at South on Main

    And much more.
    • Feb 22, 2018
  • Bitter pill

    Arkansas is second in the nation when it comes to opioid prescription rates. Those numbers are edging down, but some say the worst of the epidemic may be yet to come.
    • Feb 22, 2018
  • For lovers

    We put our usual cynicism and grousing on hold as we genuflect in the direction of Aphrodite, with highly questionable sex and relationship advice from our staff, much sounder advice from an honest-to-God sex therapist and entertainment editor Stephanie Smittle's survey of two of the state's finer rubber schlong and porno emporiums.
    • Feb 8, 2018
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Eligible voters removed from rolls

    Arkansas Times reporters contacted election officials around the state to see how they had handled flawed felon data from the secretary of state. Responses varied dramatically.
    • Aug 11, 2016
  • Real Republicans don't do pre-K

    Also, drifting away from trump, Hudson's downfall at ASU and more.
    • Aug 11, 2016
  • Asa on pre-K

    • Aug 17, 2016

Most Shared

Latest in Arkansas Reporter

  • Righting Governor's School

    Summer program at Hendrix targeted once more.
    • Feb 22, 2018
  • Special legislative session could make Arkansas first to regulate pharmacy benefit managers

    On Monday afternoon, Governor Hutchinson said he would call a special session of the Arkansas legislature to address low reimbursement rates provided to pharmacies by middleman companies called pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs.
    • Feb 19, 2018
  • Pharmacy reimbursement fight prompts special session call

    Since Jan. 1, Brandon Cooper, a pharmacist at Soo’s Drug Store in Jonesboro, has turned away a number of patients seeking to fill routine prescriptions. The problem is not that the pharmacy lacks the drugs in question or that the patients don’t have insurance, Cooper said. It’s that the state’s largest insurance carrier, Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, recently changed the way it pays for pharmaceuticals.
    • Feb 18, 2018
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

February

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28  

Most Viewed

  • Bitter pill

    Arkansas is second in the nation when it comes to opioid prescription rates. Those numbers are edging down, but some say the worst of the epidemic may be yet to come.
  • Special legislative session could make Arkansas first to regulate pharmacy benefit managers

    On Monday afternoon, Governor Hutchinson said he would call a special session of the Arkansas legislature to address low reimbursement rates provided to pharmacies by middleman companies called pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs.
  • Righting Governor's School

    Summer program at Hendrix targeted once more.
  • Hemp hurdles

    Questions raised by Governor Hutchinson about whether regulations for industrial hemp research conflict with federal law and other queries have apparently slowed progress toward the implementation of the Arkansas Industrial Hemp Act.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Righting Governor's School

    • I am very grateful my daughter was able to attend Governor's School as something that…

    • on February 22, 2018
  • Re: You can learn a lot in drug court

    • Can you please define the term "mental shortcomings"? By whom, with whom, from whom? The…

    • on February 22, 2018
  • Re: You can learn a lot in drug court

    • She tries to tell you what medicine u can take that the doctor gives u…

    • on February 21, 2018
 

© 2018 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation