Little Rock Zoo: Breakfast with the Big Cats

My birthday is this weekend! Josh is going to drive out tonight and stay until after the Steelers game on Sunday so that we can celebrate together. That got me thinking about how I celebrated my birthday last year. First, I went out to New Mexico to visit my grandparents. When I got back, Josh came out to visit me and he stayed a whole week! We did a bunch of great stuff though I must have spent much of my time working because all of my pictures are from the first weekend of his trip!

As you probably know by now, Josh loves animals and he loves zoos. We had previously visited the Little Rock Zoo and were pleased to find it one of the best zoos we’d been to. It is on the small side and is unfortunately close to a 6 lane freeway, but it has good exhibits and well-cared for animals. While I was researching things to do while Josh was here, I found out that the zoo had a cool program where you could have breakfast in the zoo before it opened to the public and a backstage tour with zookeepers. That sounded really like something Josh would love to do. I found out that they were offering one in October and it was with the big cats!

The price of admission was very reasonable. I think it was around $30 each but it included breakfast with the zookeepers, a guided tour, and admission to the zoo. The breakfast was pretty good. There was a make your own breakfast sandwich station that included egg patties, cheese, sausage and biscuits. There was a hash-brown casserole, some fruit and juice boxes. The group consisted of 30-40 people ranging in age from children to older adults. After breakfast the group was split in two for the tour. Half of us went to see the behind the scenes feeding and sleeping area of the panthers while the rest went on a guided tour of the Big Cats exhibit.

This is what it looks like behind the scenes of a zoo

We had to step in sanitizer on our way into the backstage area to try to keep any germs from getting into the cats’ living space. I thought this was very interesting and something that I wouldn’t necessarily have thought about.

This is the kitchen where they prep dinner for the cats

We were in the group that got to go backstage first. Obviously we were not allowed to directly interact with the cats. (No one wanted to lose a hand or anything.) The zookeeper told us a lot of interesting information about the cats which I mostly can’t remember now (like the names of the cats. Josh would probably know…)

One of the most interesting things she told us about was that they were working on training the cats to do “tricks” that helped them with their veterinary care. These tricks were things like rubbing their rumps against the cage for shots and opening their mouths so the vets could check their teeth.

She also showed us their food, which looked an awful lot like one of those tubes of ground beef that you can buy at the grocery store only much, much bigger. I always think it is really interesting to watch big cats because their mannerisms are so similar to house cats. (Or maybe house cats’ mannerisms are just similar to the big cats?)

Next, we switched with the other tour group and headed out for a guided tour of the zoo’s big cats. Again, the zookeeper told us a lot of information on the cats that I don’t really remember. I was interested to learn that many of their cats were rescued from private owners (like their lions) and that the zoo is not allowed to breed their animals unless they get a license from some national zoological organization.

We saw lions and tigers. It was nice being in the zoo in the morning because all the animals were out and about. The zoo keeper also told us about some construction that was going on to add a cheetah exhibit to the park.

She was also nice enough to take a picture of us.

After the tour we were free to roam around the zoo.

The flamingos were still asleep

I think we fed the ducks and koi but I don’t have any pictures.

Josh found this bear statue. He loves bears and this is probably the closest he’ll come to petting one.

Look at this bear showing off for us!

Like I said previously, it was great being in the park so early because all of the animals were really active. The only downside is that some of the animals weren’t out yet or their cages were being cleaned. This bear really took a shine to Josh (or he was hungry for a Josh-shaped snack…)

Now Josh is showing off!

We saw all of the animals in the zoo and peeked into the new cheetah area. Then we headed up to the front of the zoo to check out the carousel. This carousel is really neat. It is from 1924 and is the last “over the jumps” type of carousel in the country. I had never really heard about this type of carousel until I visited the zoo. On this type of carousel the horses are stationary but the track moves!

I don’t have any really good pictures of this but the track is built with a series of hills and valleys and when the horses go along the track you go up and down as you go along the track, mimicking the movement of horses jumping. When we first visited the zoo, I knew we should ride this historic carousel but the hours are a little odd and we had to pick up Barbara from a school interview so we just pocketed the tokens figuring that we’d be back someday.

If we end up at the zoo this weekend (likely but not definite) I will see if I can take some better pictures to really show what is going on with the carousel.

Ah, the horrible carousel picture…

To sum up, the Little Rock Zoo is worth a visit if you are in the area. I’ve barely scratched the surface of the animals in the park. They have an awesome primate habitat with a wide variety of apes, monkeys and gorillas as well as a brand new penguin habitat. Oh, and there is cool, old carousel! If you live in the area, the Breakfast with the Animals is definitely a must. It requires reservations and is really popular (all of the events for the rest of the year are booked!) It was a great value and an awesome experience.

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