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Little Rock Zoo sees record-high membership after pandemic slump

Like many businesses, it suffered financial setbacks during the height of COVID. But the restrictions also helped the zoo by boosting its attendance.

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — The Little Rock Zoo administration says they are back to pre-pandemic revenue.

Like many businesses, it suffered financial setbacks during the height of the COVID pandemic. But the restrictions also helped the zoo by boosting its attendance because other locations were closed.

"Families were just so excited to get back to the zoo and really, during COVID, families rediscovered the outdoors," said Susan Altrui, Little Rock Zoo Director.

Membership sales are the highest ever and attendance is up 60% from last year.

Something that has also never happened before — the zoo gift shop sold out of inventory twice this year.

"Before, we would see families -- mom and dad, or grandma and grandpa — walking through our gift shop kind of shielding the eyes of the kids," said Altrui. "Now, they are saying, 'if you want that stuffed animal, you can have two stuffed animals.'"

Despite the success the zoo is seeing right now, there has been a setback.

The zoo administration was relying on the penny sales tax proposal to pass this year. Since it didn't, they're having to hash out the next steps with city leaders.

"The zoo still has tremendous infrastructure needs that need to be taken care of. It's an old facility and we have the need to update a lot of our facilities and grow the zoo to take it to the next level," said Altrui.

Right now, the zoo is offering GloWild, a light-up experience best enjoyed after dark. It runs through January 15. Kids under three get in free.

They've also just welcomed a baby rhino. It is still bonding with mom, so it hasn't been out in public yet. They're planning to ask the community's help in picking out a name.