By Kim Meyer-Webb | Photography by Nancy Nolan | Produced by Ellen Scruggs
Hair by Cody Dunbar with Alexander’s Salon | Makeup by Aaron Perkins with Face Your Day Studios
Clothing provided by Terri Shotts, fashion stylist & personal shopper with Dillard’s Park Plaza
Special thanks to Education Outreach Keeper Hannah Baker who helped Petri, the American kestrel, and Latte, the black vulture, make their debut in our magazine.
When you feel the wind from the wings of our red-tailed hawk fly overhead during our Animal Ambassador Shows, you understand the power of nature,” Little Rock Zoo Assistant Director Susan Altrui’s eyes twinkle with excitement as she explains the transformative magic animals possess. “When you hear our siamangs singing at the entrance of the zoo, you know you’re in a special place.”
Besides the beloved residents of the zoo, Susan is one of the most recognizable ambassadors for the Little Rock Zoo. She admits it’s one of her favorite roles in her long list of job responsibilities. “There’s always good news to share. With so much happening here, everyone can find a reason to visit and support the zoo.” This month, as the zoo celebrates nearly a century of service, Susan applauds the Arkansas Zoological Foundation as it hosts Wild Wines. Presented by Wright Lindsey Jennings, it’s an evening of interactive FUN at the zoo that features wonderful wines from O’Looney’s Wine & Liquor and the Capital City’s wildest entertainment.
Docents paired with animals serve as greeters throughout the zoo, welcoming guests to Wild Wines with insight and Southern hospitality. A wide variety of wine and light bites from 50 of the town’s tastiest restaurants combine with a birthday party atmosphere – creating an evening that’s as informative as it is festive. “What started out as a small wine and food sampling at our café has evolved into an event that’s equal parts fun and educational,” notes Susan, “Offering exclusive opportunities to experience the animals in their home after hours and taking guests on a journey where our animals tell an important story.”
Susan works closely with Director Mike Blakely managing day-to-day activities and supports the Arkansas Zoological Foundation, the nonprofit organization that generates revenue for new exhibits and programming. Completed projects include the Laura P. Nichols Penguin Pointe exhibit, the Laura P. Nichols Cheetah Outpost, the Diamond Express Train and most recently, the Arkansas Heritage Farm.
As chairman of the foundation, Jennifer Owens recognizes the zoo’s potential. “Personal experiences with international, sometimes endangered, animals helps kids see beyond their own neighborhoods and schools,” Jennifer explains. “It brings families together and builds a stronger community. Susan’s enthusiasm and devotion to her work keep us excited about the future of our zoo.”
A native Arkansan, Susan credits her insatiable curiosity to lively family discussions around the dinner table. “We enjoyed dinner together every night and examined politics and current events,” Susan explains, noting it’s no surprise she became involved with the debate team in high school and attended Arkansas State University on a debate team scholarship. “Debate gave me confidence and a better perspective of the world.” She enjoyed work and life in Colorado as a graduate student at Colorado State University.
Politics and her strong Southern roots brought her back to Arkansas; her heart for service landed her at the Little Rock Zoo. “I wanted my work to really make a difference,” Susan explains. “The zoo serves as a place for family recreation, but it also illustrates the importance of wildlife conservation and nature.” In an increasingly electronic and connected world, the zoo offers a variety of ways to experience “the beautiful world around us.”
Congruent with the zoo’s mission fulfillment work, education is a critical component of the vast amenities it provides. “The zoo encourages positive community development and the conversation of endangered wildlife,” Susan explains. “It can also inspire global change.” She notes that many doctors, biologists and scientists realized their interest in the natural world and love of animals through zoos. Susan admits on-the-job learning is key to the zoo’s continued success. “Whether it’s exhibits, animal husbandry or programming – we are challenged to continue to provide an experience unparalleled by books or videos.”
Proceeds from Wild Wines facilitate necessary improvements and expansions at the zoo. “Many patrons are surprised to learn the zoo is not completely supported by tax revenue from the City of Little Rock,” notes Director Mike Blakely. “We attract more than 300,000 visitors annually and more than 70 percent come from outside of our city limits. It’s a tourism destination with unlimited possibilities. Under Susan’s keen leadership, the Arkansas Zoological Foundation continues to provide additional revenue for us to make improvements and events like Wild Wines are just a whole lot of fun.”
Susan’s commitment to the welfare of animals and wildlife conservation at the Little Rock Zoo is unwavering and spans more than a decade. As she continues to embrace new opportunities to accommodate the ever-changing environment of the Little Rock Zoo, she remains mindful and steadfast. “It’s our responsibility to share the wonders of nature with our guests and remind them how our actions, even the smallest actions, impact the environment.”
In Susan’s WILD WORLD:
Philosophy to Live By: Do right. Work hard. Have fun.
Most Admired Animal: A cheetah – it would be fun to run fast.
Favorite Wine: Amarone – it has hints of cherry and raisin.
For Fun: Tennis – you have to keep your eye on the ball or you lose.