Seal of Little Rock

Tuesday, Sep 20, 2016

City of Little Rock Public Relations
Office (501) 371-4421

Media Releases

Contact(s): L. Lamor Williams 501-661-7201 desk 501-912-0088 mobile

Zoo Director Mike Blakely Announces Retirement

LITTLE ROCK (Sept. 20, 2016) – Longtime Little Rock Zoo Executive Director Mike Blakely announced his retirement Tuesday after spending nearly 20 years at the helm of the state’s only accredited zoo.

Blakely was named director in September 1999. During his tenure, several improvements have been made and exhibits have been opened at the 33-acre facility. He points to a few as the accomplishments of which he is most proud. 

“The most recent one is the Arkansas Heritage Farm, but the Laura P. Nichols Penguin Pointe, Cheetah Outpost and Diamond Express train have been significant additions,” Blakely said. “I’m also proud of the overall development of the Zoo staff and the continued support of the community. I look forward to seeing the progress yet to come.”

City Manager Bruce Moore said Blakely came to the Zoo at a critical time in its 90-year history.

“Mike helped build the Zoo into the world-class, accredited institution it is today,” Moore said. “His emphasis on education and conservation has set the standard and brought us exciting exhibits such as the Arkansas Heritage Farm. While we are sad to see him go, we are thankful for his many years of dedication to the City and most importantly to the Zoo family.” 

Blakely said he and his wife Nancy plan to travel now that they have an empty nest at home. His last day at the Zoo is set for Oct. 14.

“I started at the Portland Zoo in 1967 and have been working at zoos ever since,” Blakely said. “It was just a summer job that grew into what it is today. I worked my way up from keeper to curator to director.” 

Blakely has worked for the Oklahoma City Zoo, Kansas City Zoo (Missouri) and for Wildlife Safari (Oregon) where he held his first director position before coming to Little Rock. 

Susan Altrui, the Zoo’s assistant director, said she’s learned a lot from Blakely over the years.

“There are not many marketing and development professionals who rise to the executive leadership ranks, but I was fortunate enough to work with a director who saw leadership potential in me and allowed me to grow,” she said. “He’s done the same for others at the Zoo and his presence will be missed.”  

Moore will outline a replacement plan for Blakely in October.