Big Arkie was a thirteen-foot-long alligator caught in 1952 near Hope (Hempstead County). He was the Little Rock Zoo’s main attraction for eighteen years. Weighing 500 pounds, Big Arkie was considered to be the largest alligator in captivity in the western hemisphere.
Big Arkie was spied by a young boy in a flooded pasture by Yellow Creek, which is west of Hope. Ed Jackson, caretaker of a local hunting club, was alerted and, with some companions, wrapped Big Arkie in a fifty-foot-long cable attached to a tractor. The alligator spent one night in Hope’s public children’s pool, encased in chicken wire. On the following day, he was delivered to the Little Rock Zoo, doubled up in a crate. When the truck containing Big Arkie arrived at the zoo’s alligator pit, it took seven men forty-five minutes to unload him. Raymond Gray, then director of the zoo, measured Big Arkie at nearly thirteen feet long.
No one could be sure how old Big Arkie was, as he was fully grown when captured. Big Arkie was an American alligator, Alligator mississippiensis. Alligators are found in only two places in the world: the southern United States and the lower Yangtze River valley in China.
On the first day of Big Arkie’s showing at the zoo, about 3,000 people came to see him. Big Arkie was the main zoo attraction for eighteen years; the zoo-keepers occasionally fed him by hand. When Big Arkie was at the height of fame, several people wanted to buy him. Upon hearing this, Gray said, “He’s not for sale at any price!” In the beginning of 1962, Big Arkie had a serious bout with a fungal infection around his jaws, caused by a vitamin D deficiency. The alligator was cured with the help of sun lamps, cod liver oil, and medicinal aerosol. Before he died, Big Arkie was not eating very well, so he was force-fed in the last years of his life.
At his death on July 30, 1970, Big Arkie weighed 346 pounds. The Big Arkie Memorial Fund paid $815 for him to be stuffed, mounted, and put back on display at the zoo. There, he was exhibited in the reptile house for several years. Because preservation conditions there were less than ideal, Big Arkie was moved to the lobby of the new Arkansas Game and Fish Commission building. Big Arkie later became part of the Herpetology Collection of the Museum of Zoology at Arkansas State University (ASU) in Jonesboro (Craighead County). The alligator is currently owned by Dr. Stanley E. Trauth, a professor of zoology at ASU.
For additional information:
“13-foot Big Arkie Dies; Zoo’s Giant Alligator Famous Across the Land.” Arkansas Gazette. August 2, 1970, p. 2A.
“Arkie Is Mounted, Taken Outside on Sunny Days to Dry Out Faster.” Arkansas Gazette. August 29, 1970, p. 3A.
“Big Arkie Suffering, Old Age.” Arkansas Gazette. May 17, 1970, p. 4E.
“Memorial Fund is Started To Mount Big Arkie at Zoo.” Arkansas Gazette. August 5, 1970, p. 16B.
Smith, Eula Burns. “Big Arkie Is off His Food–Is Old.” Arkansas Gazette. May 17, 1970, p. 4E.
Last Updated: 09/12/2019