One of my favorite memories growing up in Ohio was visiting our local zoo. We lived less than a mile from the zoo, so we had passes and my sister and I would walk to the zoo at least 1-2 times a week. I never get tired of seeing the animals, admiring their beauty and character and playful antics. When we moved to Atlanta, I was brokenhearted and was not sure I would ever be able to love another zoo again.
When I visited Zoo Atlanta for the first time, I instantly fell in love. Some the fondest memories I have with my oldest daughter were from trips to Zoo Atlanta. I moved away from Atlanta about 12 years ago and I have really missed visiting the Zoo Atlanta animals. My oldest daughter Chelsea still lives in Atlanta, so when we went to visit her during spring break, Zoo Atlanta was on my list of places to see. My two younger kids, Caitlin and Henry had never been to Zoo Atlanta, so they were overcome with excitement when I told them we were going there. I must say, I was getting tired of hearing “Are we there yet?”, which the kids repeated about 100 times in the drive from Chelsea’s house to the zoo.
Zoo Atlanta came about when a traveling circus was left stranded while it was passing through Atlanta. The owner went into bankruptcy and an Atlanta businessman purchased the circus at an auction. He donated the animals to the City of Atlanta and the community embraced them. In 1935, Asa Candler donated his huge personal menagerie to the zoo with the requirement proper housing for his animals would be built. The city rallied and through fund raising, they soon had a lively zoo which housed elephants, leopards, water buffalo, elk, zebra, birds, a hyena and a sea lion, and Jimmie Walker, Grant Park’s first tiger.
Since then, the zoo has moved away from the old fashioned cages and built more natural habitats for the residents. From 1951-1967, the zoo underwent a facelift and the famous World of Reptiles structure still stands today. The zoo is not only known for its amazing collection of wildlife, but for its conservation, educational and research efforts as well. The zoo has been home to one of the most famous gorillas, Willie B., who lived at the zoo for more than 40 years. Here is a picture of Chelsea and Caitlin with a commemorative stature of the gentle soul.
Since his passing, the gorillas made the headlines again in 2005. Kuchi delivered the first set of twins to be raised successfully in a zoo without intervention from the staff. Willie B.’s first grandchild, Macy Baby, was born December 2005 and has been joined by four more of his grandchildren. We were lucky enough to see a few of the younger gorillas playing in the distance, but they were too far away for me to get a good picture. Zoo Atlanta is home to the nation’s largest gorilla collection. Henry loved learning every gorilla has a unique noseprint, much like humans with their fingerprints. Also, they do not drink water in the wild, but get the water they need from their food.
Chelsea loves birds so we had to visit the Parakeet Aviary. This breathtaking structure is home to hundreds of the colorful birds. It is really fun to walk through the structure as the birds are flying and playing freely all around you. This was a huge treat for Caitlin who also loves birds and has never seen this many in one location. Parakeets are also known as Budgerigars, who are very social and live in large groups, sometimes numbered in the thousands. The wild birds have green plumage, while those in captivity will have shades of blue, gray, yellow and white.
Next, we visited the African Plains section which houses the elephants, lions, Timon and Pumbaa, I mean the meerkat and warthog, zebras, the Bongo and the Kori Bustard. The giraffes are one of Henry’s favorites. He says they look like royalty because they walk and eat so gracefully. We got to see a few of them eat a snack together and Henry said they may be in love! One of my favorite animals is the zebra and I was so thrilled to see one as up close as I did at Zoo Atlanta. Did you know each zebra has their own unique stripe pattern, so no two are exactly alike? They are also very fast and their speed is their best defense against predators, but if they are cornered, they can serve up a very powerful and dangerous kick.
We also got to see the Black Rhino, who Caitlin and I have decided looks like a macho unicorn! I thought it was interesting to learn the rhinos are in the same order as horses and can run up to 30 MPH. Their horns are made of keratin, which is the same material in human hair and fingernails.
We arrived at Zoo Atlanta in the late afternoon, so some of the animals were eating dinner. This elephant was having some heart healthy hay for his meal! The male African Elephant can weigh up to 1,500 pounds while the females weigh an average of 800 pounds. They have 40,000 muscles and tendons in their trunks, which allow them to pick up anything from a log to a single blade of grass.
It was also dinnertime for this Sumatran Tiger who was VERY anxious to get his food. I think they are so gorgeous but he kind of scared me when he growled for his food! Tigers are one of the only big cats that enjoy being in water and although the Sumatran tigers are the smallest subspecies of tigers, adult Siberian Tigers can weigh more than 500 pounds.
We also got to see the hilarious otters, who Henry and Chelsea love but I could not get a picture to save my life. They were being paw-parazzi shy I guess! We got to see a very cool Komodo Dragon in the World of reptiles as well as the naked mole rats, who were the butt of many jokes only a 12 year old boy could find funny! One of my husbands favorite birds is the vulture and the King vulture at Zoo Atlanta is one of the most striking I have ever seen. I learned the vulture is most closely related to the condor.
Our last stop before heading home was the home of the Giant Pandas. The zoo made headlines in 1998 when Lun Lun and Yang Yang, a pair of giant pandas from China, arrived. Lun Lun, the female weighs almost 250 pounds, likes to climb and likes the smell of cinnamon and mint. Her mate, Yang Yang, is playful, easy going, loves the smell of Tabasco and lavender and weighs almost 300 pounds. They have 3 children; Mei Lan, born in 2006, Xi Lan, born in 2008 and Po, born in 2010. Actor Jack Black, who voiced Po the panda in Kung Fu Panda, was present at Zoo Atlanta for the naming of the newborn panda cub.
There are so many more animals, reptiles and birds to see at Zoo Atlanta but we got there so late, we missed many of them. It was close to dinner time, so many of the animals we busy with their dinner. I promised the kids we would go back and next time Mommy would remember how the Atlanta traffic can be and leave the hotel earlier! You can contact Zoo Atlanta for special tours, events and event overnight stays. Be sure to stay current with the latest from Zoo Atlanta by following them on Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.
800 Cherokee Ave. SE
Atlanta, GA 30315
Monday – Friday
9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m, with the *last admission at 4:30 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday
9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., with the *last admission at 5:30 p.m.
*because they begin to bring the animals in for the day. Food stands close an hour prior to the grounds closing; rides close a half hour prior.
Adult (12+) $21.99
Child (3-11) $16.99
Child 2 & Under FREE
Senior Citizen (65+), Military and College students: $17.99