Regarding “Send in the Elephants” article, I believe that great cities have great zoos. I believe that the Little Rock Zoo has “good bones.” I think that the activities of current staff and board of directors are not leading the Little Rock Zoo on a path to success, much less greatness. I am not even sure of the Zoo's mission and goals (and not from a lack of research). Every visit I make to the Little Rock Zoo ends with a listing of missed opportunities. I write from a biased perspective as a fan of zoos, in general, and a former employee of the Memphis Zoo, in particular.
I see the Little Rock Zoo in a pattern of providing excuses for its present state and constantly portraying itself to a step-sibling of nearby zoos, mainly the St. Louis Zoo and the Memphis Zoo. In the article, Susan Altrui speaks of the Memphis Zoo: “Ten or 15 years ago, the Memphis Zoo was where we are now, good but not great ...” I question her math.
The Memphis Zoo began its major renovation work in the late 1980s as part of Overton Park's master plan. Concurrent to that, the Memphis Zoological Society began the transition to the management arm of the zoo, while the city of Memphis retained ownership of the land, the buildings and any upgrades. This management change brought accountability. By 1994, 15 years ago, the Memphis Zoo had opened Cat Country and Primate Canyon and was putting finishing touches on the Once Upon a Farm and Animals of the Night exhibits. Equal to the amazing exhibits that the Memphis Zoo had at this time were the steps management had put in place to ensure 360 degrees of improvements: high standards of customer service; a horticulture department dedicated to providing attractive grounds; a respect for the structures on the grounds; very visible leadership volunteers and staff who daily toured the Zoo, including the Memphis Zoological Society chair and president; and finally, an understanding of mission and goals through messages found on high-quality signage on the grounds to little printed mission statements given to every new volunteer and employee. The Little Rock Zoo of now is nowhere near the Memphis Zoo of 15 years ago.
In contrast, the Little Rock Zoo has not taken advantage of some of its strongest assets: its grounds and its volunteers. When riding the train on a visit in the summer, I was dismayed to see spray paint graffiti on the “rocks” behind some exhibits. I became furious when I realized the “graffiti” was a permanent part of the Boo at the Zoo event. Who allowed this to happen at the time of Boo at the Zoo and why was it not immediately removed? The grounds are a mess. Customer service is horrible. Members of the Zoo are ignored and given no real reason to continue the memberships. I rarely see upper management staff on grounds. Special events are poorly executed.
I am tired of hearing other zoos mentioned by spokespeople for the Little Rock Zoo. I want to know what my city's zoo is doing with the resources it has. I want to see friendly people working there. I would like to know that the zoo is doing the little things that it can do in the here and now, while planning for the big things it can do when resources allow.
Tracey Meyer Chesser
Many thanks for running my dog Timothy's picture on the cover of your paper accompanying Gerard Matthews' fine article about SB 77, the Felony Animal Cruelty Bill.
Little Timothy has been living with me since early December. His condition upon seizure by the Humane Society of Pulaski County was far worse than anything your readers could imagine, but his progress has been nothing short of remarkable. He currently weighs about 9 pounds and lives with three other dogs — all larger than he is. Although he has no vision, he runs and plays with the others and holds his own among his newfound friends. Timothy's plight, and the horrific conditions from which he was rescued, have had a profound impact on me as well as the many individuals who have been fortunate enough to meet him. Other than his blindness, he has no other residual effects from his prior circumstances. The Humane Society gave him a new life, and he's not looked back for a single second.
I hope everyone who was touched by your article and Timothy's story will consider making a donation to the Humane Society so they can continue their work on behalf of these defenseless animals. And when thinking about a new family pet, I hope your readers will consider adoption over the purchase of an animal. A purchase is a purchase — an adoption is an investment with the best of returns for both the animal and its new family.
Debra S. Wood
The picture on your cover was worth more than 1,000 words! Thank you for making Arkansans aware of this very important bill, SB 77. The Arkansas Times has always been a great supporter of local animal groups and those in the animal world praise you. A huge thanks to Attorney General Dustin McDaniel and Humane Society of Pulaski County Director Kay Jordan. Excellent examples of great Arkansans.
Hayden L. Allred
North Little Rock