“The Great Plains Zoo is about creating connections and inspiring conservation of wild species and spaces,” said director of animal care Joel Locke.

In his role, Locke focuses on ensuring his fellow staff have everything they need to provide for the well-being of the animals under their care.

“Our dedication to the animals goes beyond the experience for our visitors,” shared Locke. “We aim to provide the best for our animals, staff, and guests.”

Locke and his team will add a new species to their care list with the upcoming lion exhibit opening this month.

Two African lions, Simba and Amahle, will be the first to return to the Great Plains Zoo in more than 30 years.

“While zoos were originally introduced to the public for entertainment, we’ve grown to focus on education, conservation, and tending to our animals,” shared Locke.

Read more about the animal lover and how he spends his time in the wild.

I enjoy coaching my son, Kyper’s, youth sports team, and I’ve been coaching his class in football, basketball, and baseball for over six years.

Throughout January, you can find me participating in the Annual Burger Battle in downtown Sioux Falls and trying all of the contestants’ burgers.


The Great Plains Zoo’s upcoming lion exhibit features a kopje rock, which is recognized as Pride Rock from the Disney movie The Lion King.

It’s not uncommon to see me at a sports bar and grill watching the Michigan Wolverines every Saturday during the fall.

I love testing out my competitive side by going to Dave & Buster’s or Thunder Road of Sioux Falls with my son. Our goal is to beat any record the carnival or sports games hold.


My son named our dog Leonardo after the famous Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, and as a father, I couldn’t be prouder of my boys.

I love a good musical. You can always find me singing songs at work.

I was fortunate enough to travel to Nepal in 2022 on a conservation expedition to research ways to help snow leopards.

Elephants are my favorite animal; I’ve worked with them professionally for a large portion of my career.

When it comes to hobbies, I would say mine is sports. I love watching, playing, and coaching them. With that, I’ll be up all hours of the day and night watching the Summer Olympic Games in Paris.

Most days I enjoy walking the grounds at the zoo and appreciating all of the great work our staff does. I often find myself stopping by the giraffe exhibit to give Olivia Dee a treat.

A favorite tradition during the winter is making a point to visit Falls Park with my son to see the festive light show.

During their respective seasons, you’ll find me catching a Sioux Falls Stampede or Sioux Falls Storm game at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center.

In the summer, I love walking along downtown’s riverfront and stopping to have a nice meal at either Ode to Food and Drinks or CRAVE American Kitchen & Sushi Bar.

I will never turn down a chance to make a small road trip to Brookings for a few hamburgers at Nick’s Hamburger Shop.

I’ll always visit Centerville during their 4th of July celebration. If you haven’t attended Tornado Days, it’s a must-go for everyone.

For more information, visit GREATZOO.ORG+
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