Southern star in an urban park
of the ten oldest zoos in continuous operation in the United States, Atlanta's zoo began when a city merchant bought an animal collection from a traveling circus and donated it to the city in 1889. Little happened to the zoo for almost 50 years, until Asa Candler -- an heir to the Coca Cola fortune -- donated his live animal collection and zoo aficionados called for more modern facilities.
The facilities were modernized in the 1950s, but little changed again for the next three decades, when a multi-million dollar redevelopment plan got underway.
Zoo Atlanta today is home to natural habitats for 19 lowland gorillas -- including nearly 40-year-old Willie B., a zoo resident and city celebrity since 1961, and his growing family. The zoo's 40 urban park acres (16 hectares) also house orangutans, rhinos, giraffes, ostriches, red pandas, Sumatran tigers, a multi-species exhibit featuring drill baboons and mona monkeys and more -- and is still growing.
Also high on Zoo Atlanta's resident must-see list -- Larry, Moe and Curly, a trio of endangered Asian small-clawed otters and an extensive reptile house collection, including the endangered Dumeril's ground boa, the only king brownsnake on exhibit in the country, and a pair of Komodo dragons.
800 Cherokee Ave. S.E., Atlanta; (404) 624-5600
Web site: http://www.zooatlanta.org
FAST FACT: One of Zoo Atlanta's popular residents is 15-year-old African elephant Starlet O'Hara -- who is known for her painting abilities. She prefers watercolors, and her works are for sale at the zoo's gift shop.
Photos by Joe Sebo courtesy of Zoo Atlanta.