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Atlanta Zoo - with Amazing Videos

Things to do in Atlanta? Check out some wild critters at Atlanta Zoo!

Things to do in Atlanta? Check out some wild critters at Atlanta Zoo!

Things To Do In Atlanta

Have you ever been to the Atlanta Zoo? I loved the place as a kid, and as an adult, I took my own children. Unless you’re a real animal lover, it’s somewhat easy to forget about the zoo because there are so many things to do in Atlanta. One of the most popular Atlanta attractions is the amazing Georgia Aquarium. Other things to do in Atlanta include Stone Mountain Park, Six Flags Over Georgia, Centennial Olympic Park, Underground Atlanta, the Fox Theater, World of Coca-Cola, Atlanta Botanical Gardens, LegoLand, and the High Museum of Art. Visitors can take in a sports even at Turner Field, Philips Arena, or the Georgia Dome. History buffs will enjoy Fernbank Museum of Natural History, the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum, the Michael C. Carlos Museum, The William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum, the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site. Of all these wonderful things to do in Atlanta, however, the Atlanta Zoo holds a special place in my heart.

Atlanta Zoo

Atlanta Zoo

Zoo Atlanta GA has quite a checkered past. It began by accident, really. In 1889, a circus on its way to nearby Marietta ran out of funds. The owner and performers abandoned the sinking ship, along with the animals. People felt sorry for the animals, but the average citizen had no idea of how to care for a wild animal, much less an entire group of them. A local businessman named George Valentine Gress took pity on them and purchased the critters lock, stock, and barrel and donated them to the city of Atlanta. The city accepted the unusual gift, and city officials decided that Grant Park would be an appropriate home for the animals – a hyena, a raccoon, an elk, a jaguar, a Mexican hog, lionesses, a gazelle, a black bear, pumas, snakes, and camels.

During this part of the Victorian era, exotic zoo wildlife was in vogue. Many middle-class and upper-middle-class families spent their Saturday or Sunday afternoons at Grant Park, picnicking at what they liked to call the wildlife park, according to my great-grandmother. The zoo park was so popular that Atlanta citizens jumped on the project almost immediately, donating animals and raising money for the zoo. Just a year after the zoo opened, the first elephant, Clio, was purchased.

More animals trickled in, and in 1935, the Atlanta Zoo received an amazing gift: the private wild animal collection of Atlanta philanthropist Asa Candler. The menagerie included a tiger, elephants, elk, zebra, water buffalo, leopards, a sea lion, a hyena, and numerous birds. This was a real boon for the zoo park, in essence doubling the number of animals.

In the 1950s and 60s, the zoo underwent numerous renovations. Cages were eschewed and more natural settings were constructed. I remember going to the zoo as a child and marveling at being able to see the animals with no bars to obstruct my view. Deep moats and other obstacles kept the animals in their designated areas. Most of the zoo wildlife had room to walk around without the confines of a traditional cage.

In 1961, the zoo acquired one of its most famous residents – a baby gorilla named Willie B, after then Atlanta mayor William B. Hartsfield. By the time I first saw Willie, he was an adult – probably about 7 or 8 years old – and he was huge. He was in a large enclosure with a plexiglass front. He had a tire swing on which he would employ as a sort of battering ram against the glass. I was always fascinated yet terrified by him! You could stand in front of his cage and make hand gestures, and if he was in the right mood, he would mimic the movements.

It seems that as soon as the renovations were completed, they were considered outdated by many critics. Also, the zoo was reportedly overcrowded, with more animals than could be adequately cared for. To address and remedy the problems, the Atlanta Zoological Society was formed in 1970. The leaders of the group were president, Dr. Geoffrey Bourne, and two vice presidents, Dr. Duane Rumbaugh and Richard Reynolds, III. Some headway was made, but they fell short of the improvements needed.

In 1984, the proverbial hammer fell. Parade Magazine featured a blistering attack on the zoo and named it one of the worst zoos in the United States. Because of the hoopla, the zoo was investigated and found sorely lacking. It lost its accreditation, and angry citizens demanded its closure. The city’s citizens did not like the notion that her beloved animals were not being well cared for in the Atlanta Zoo.

Plains Zebra

Plains Zebra

Zoo Atlanta

Shakespeare asked, “What’s in a name?” In the case of Atlanta Zoo versus Zoo Atlanta, there’s a huge difference! In 1985, Atlanta Fulton County Zoo, Inc. was established, and they renamed the facility Zoo Atlanta. Ambitious renovations began almost immediately. The Wildlife Theater and Flamingo Plaza both opened late in the decade, as did the Ford African Rain Forest. For the first time ever, Willie B could roam outdoors and mingle with other gorillas. In 1994, his first offspring was born – a female named Kudzoo.

More new exhibits soon followed. The African savanna was displayed in Masai Mara, and in the Mzima Springs exhibit, elephants meandered around a real watering hole. Impressive realistic habitats for other animals were also built, and the zoo received several awards for its efforts. My family and I visited the zoo in 1988 for the first time after the name was changed from Atlanta Zoo to Zoo Atlanta, and I was astonished at the wonderful changes and additions!

In 1994, the American Zoo and Aquarium Association held its national conference at Zoo Atlanta. This served as concrete proof to the concerned citizens of Georgia that Zoo Atlanta had indeed reached a new standard. This event was like an unofficial stamp of approval. The old Atlanta Zoo had been replaced by a newer, better version. It’ll always be the Atlanta Zoo for me, though, since that’s how I knew it as a child.

1999 was another banner year for the facility. Giant pandas Lun Lun and Yang Yang arrived at the zoo from China. This was a really big deal – only two other zoos had these magnificent animals. The Zoo Atlanta panda quickly became a worldwide symbol of conservation and research, filling many Georgians with immense pride.

In 2003, the Outback Station exhibit was opened as part of the Children’s Zoo, and in 2004, the Ford African Rain Forest added The Living Treehouse. In 2005, the zoo once again astounded the public. One of the gorillas, Kuchi, gave birth to twins and cared for them without help. This was a first for a captive gorilla. Another baby gorilla born that same year was also celebrated. Willie B’s daughter, Kudzoo, gave birth. Although the old silverback had passed away in 2000, his bloodline was now secure.

From its humble beginnings through its growing pains, Zoo Atlanta has triumphed. Today, it focuses largely on educating the public about wild animals and the importance of maintaining their habitats through conservation. With its amazing animals, beautiful scenery, rides, and interactive exhibits, it’s a wonderful place for a family adventure. And don’t miss the Cyclorama and Civil War Museum, which is right next to the Atlanta Zoo.

Zoo Videos

If you can't go to the zoo right now, you can at least enjoy viewing some animals with zoo videos! All the videos below were recorded at the Atlanta Zoo.

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Buy Atlanta Zoo tickets and see giant pandas!

Buy Atlanta Zoo tickets and see giant pandas!

Atlanta Zoo Tickets

Zoo Atlanta houses more than 50 bird species, 100 species of reptiles, 20 species of amphibians, and more than 40 species of mammals. There are also a carousel, a train ride, and a rock climbing wall, along with restaurants, snack bars, shopping venues, live shows, training demonstrations, educational programs, and animal encounters.

Atlanta Zoo tickets are $21.99 for visitors 12 and over, $17.99 for visitors 65 and over, $16.99 for children 3-11, $17.99 for college students, and $17.99 for members of the military. Children 2 and under are admitted for free. Parking at the zoo is free. For groups of ten or more, you get discount tickets to the Atlanta Zoo.

If you’re planning on the Zoo Atlanta complete experience, consider a premium pass. It includes admission, a wristband for unlimited rides, zoo coupons for a soft drink and a lunch basket, and Zoo Atlanta coupons worth $10 in the gift shops.

You’ll need additional Atlanta Zoo tickets for rides and for certain attractions. For $8.50, you can enjoy unlimited rides all day. With a $15 Fun Pass, you can enjoy ten rides, and the pass is good for an entire year.

Georgia Aquarium

Georgia Aquarium

Georgia Aquarium

If you’re interested in animals, your visit to the “Big A’ wouldn’t be complete without checking out the Georgia Aquarium. If you’re visiting Atlanta for the zoo and the Georgia Aquarium, your best buy is the combo ticket discount. Tickets are $39 for kids 3-11 and $49.50 for visitors 12 and over. If you buy the Georgia Aquarium and Zoo Atlanta combo tickets in advance and something unexpected happens to prevent your scheduled visit, don’t worry – the tickets are good for six months from the date of purchase.

The Georgia Aquarium is a definite must-see! It’s the world’s largest aquarium, with more than ten million gallons of water. Visitors can see freshwater fish, saltwater fish, amphibians, invertebrates, alligators, turtles, whales, seals, dolphins, and penguins – more than 55,000 critters in all. With the combination ticket, you’ll also have free access to the Dolphin show, temporary exhibits, and the amazing Georgia Aquarium 4-D theater.

Atlanta Zoo Hours

The zoo is open every day of the year except for Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Hours are 9:30-5:30, but you have to arrive by 4:30 in order to be admitted. Atlanta Zoo hours might be changed in case of extreme weather. And speaking of weather, you might want to take it into account when deciding what time of day is best for zoo visits. Georgia has very hot and humid summers, and July and August can be brutal. During the summer months, I suggest arriving at the zoo as early as possible. Morning trips to the zoo in the summer will also help you avoid late afternoon thunderstorms and rain that are typical for the state.

The fall months in Atlanta are usually mild, and October is a great time to enjoy the Atlanta Zoo. The average rainfall for Atlanta in October is just 3.11 inches, making it second only to January as the driest month. December, January, and February in Atlanta is sometimes chilly, with overnight temperatures dropping down to below freezing. By afternoon, however, the mercury usually rises to fairly comfortable temperatures.

The spring months are also great times to visit Zoo Atlanta. March, however, is the wettest month of the year, and storms are frequent. April and May are much better times for outdoor activities, on average, and visiting the Atlanta Zoo is no exception.

Several Atlanta Hotels are near the zoo.

Several Atlanta Hotels are near the zoo.

Marriott Marquis, Atlanta, GA

Atlanta Hotels

Hotels near Atlanta Zoo include Holiday Inn Select Capitol Conference Center (1.14 miles), Country Inn and Suites (1.21 miles), Comfort Inn at Turner Field (1.21 miles), and The Peach House (1.69 miles).

Other Zoo Atlanta hotels you might consider include E Hotel Downtown (1.79 miles), Wyndham Atlanta Downtown (1.81 miles) Baymont Inn and Suites Downtown (1.82 miles) and Howard Johnson Plaza Hotel and Suites (1.82 miles).

My favorite of the downtown Atlanta hotels that’s considered an Atlanta Zoo hotel is the Marriott Marquis. Located at 265 Peachtree Center Avenue, it’s just over two miles away from the zoo and just five blocks from the Georgia Aquarium. The Marquis features beautiful, comfortable rooms and suites, restaurants, nightlife, a fitness center, a whirlpool, an indoor swimming pool, an outdoor swimming pool, a steam room, and a full service luxurious spa. If you don’t have a car, you can walk to many nearby attractions, restaurants, and shopping venues. If you don’t have a vehicle and want to go to the zoo without paying for a taxi, you can take the MARTA train to the Civic Center, and from there, you can take Bus 32 to Atlanta Zoo.


Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on March 30, 2010:

Hi, Angel! I bet that was an enjoyable job!

Angel Ward from Galveston, TX on March 30, 2010:

My X boyfriend used to work there, I really missed him especially how much happier he was when he worked there...he was security, loved being there after the people were gone, and he said that most of the people who worked there were like family.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on January 06, 2010:

FF, it's come a long way, baby! It's something we can now all be very proud of!

Alfreta Sailor from Southern California on January 06, 2010:

Here is another thing that I don't do when I go home to Atlanta. But from reading your hub I think I will have to go when I go home this year. When I left Atl. in 1968, the Atl Zoo was in really bad shape in fact it was a literal laughing stock. But from what you say it deserves another look. Thanks habee for the very informative hub.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on January 06, 2010:

You are correct, Sir Pop! Who couldn't be charmed by those adorable pandas?

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on January 06, 2010:

Hi, CM! Remember when the Atlanta zoo didn't charge admission? Prolly why they ran short of money. Nice of you to stop by!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on January 06, 2010:

Hafeezrm, I know how it is - there never seems to be enough time. Hope you enjoyed the other attractions! Thanks for reading.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on January 06, 2010:

Hi, HH! It's a beautiful zoo. I want to take all the grands soon, but I first need to check on a scooter rental. There's no way I could do that much walking! Maybe I could ride one of the elephants?? lol.

breakfastpop on January 06, 2010:

Beautiful hub, habee.

Great pictures and I too love the pandas. Who wouldn't?

carolina muscle from Charlotte, North Carolina on January 06, 2010:

Zoo Atlanta is one of my favorite zoos... and a very affordable day trip! Great post, Habee!

hafeezrm from Pakistan on January 06, 2010:

Nice and informative hub. Year before last, I had a stopover at Atlanta on my way to Chile. I went to CNN Centre, Coco Cola Muesum and an aquarium. Wish I had gone to Zoo so beautifully dipicted by you.

Thanks for sharing.

Hello, hello, from London, UK on January 06, 2010:

That zoo sounds terrific and a great hub. Thank you, habee.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on January 06, 2010:

I love the pandas, too, Carol! Wouldn't you love to hold and snuggle that baby panda??

Carolyn Blacknall from Houston, Texas on January 06, 2010:

Nice hub. Great zoo videos. I love the pandas.

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