By Kim Meyer Webb | Photography by Dero Sanford | Makeup by Vannette Vititow with Barbara Jean | Wardrobe from Barbara Jean
For nearly a century, the Little Rock Zoo has provided a special place for families to experience “the natural world around us,” Director Susan Altrui explains. “The zoo cultivates an appreciation for wildlife and wild places with a respect for all living things. It can also inspire global change.” She notes that many doctors, researchers, biologists and scientists first realized their interest in the natural world through zoos. “The importance of teaching conservation is more timely now than ever. Conservation issues aren’t just about saving animals; there are public health issues as well. We’re seeing the impact of that now with the COVID-19 out break, which likely has its origin from bats.* That’s why consideration to wild animals and their habitats is so critical.” This reflects an unwavering mission to educate + inspire.
Later this year, the Little Rock Zoo will welcome visitors to the new Conservation Learning Center. The center will serve as a platform to demonstrate the value of conservation as well as the importance of STEM education. It will include two areas: the Susan Jones Citizen Science Center for older children and the Laura Nichols Nature Nook for toddlers. Both will encourage exploration and play for all ages through thoughtful activities that also highlight native Arkansas species, like the red wolf and black bear. “For example, the Susan Jones Citizen Science Center will have a station where children can measure the length and body composition of a resin Eastern Collard Lizard to get a sense what biologists might do when tracking and investigating species in Arkansas.” It’s these kind of educational programs that engage the mind and spirit with the wonders of the world.
Amenities, like the Conservation Learning Center, are made possible through the leadership + support of the Arkansas Zoological Foundation. The foundation celebrates the important role that the Little Rock Zoo plays in our community – offering a unique opportunity to experience international, sometimes endangered, animals and a truly global perspective of wildlife conservation. The board of directors is comprised of civic leaders, like Melanie Hillard, who represent important industry sectors throughout the state. Melanie was initially introduced to the foundation by her friend Betsy Singleton Snyder and joined in its quest to continue the institution’s legacy of excellence. “I’ve always valued the experiences I had at the Little Rock Zoo as a child,” she reflects. “I treasure the memories I’ve made with my family visiting zoos and aquariums around the country. I’m honored to contribute, in whatever small way, towards helping our Little Rock Zoo rank among the top zoos in America.”
A Capital City native, Melanie remembers her mother’s tenure at Ricky Lou’s Nursery & Kindergarten as inspiration for her own gracious leadership. “Miss Dorothy, as she was affectionately called, taught so many life lessons about how to treat all people – regardless of their life circumstances.” Melanie travels the state as a representative for Eli Lily & Company and is a member of Union AME Church and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. “My family, friends, church, sorority and even my work provide me with so many opportunities to be a part of something bigger than myself.”
Susan recognizes the foundation and its members as an invaluable resource. “Melanie is an incredible volunteer who rolls up her sleeves and digs into every project,” Susan notes. “The Arkansas Zoological Foundation is committed to investing in our state’s only accredited zoo with a vision for the future that is bright.”