Touring Zoo Atlanta

Forty acres of Atlanta's Grant Park are encompassed by Zoo Atlanta, an animal habitat built anew by the city after its municipal zoo was rated as one of the worst zoos in the nation. Thanks to the efforts of Terry Maples and his staff, the zoo has become one of the ten best zoos in the world.

My husband and I entered the unique world of Zoo Atlanta on a warm April morning after enjoying a drive through upscale neighborhood surrounding Grant Park. We parked and walked down the hill to the entrance of the zoo just a few feet from the Cyclorama. To the left as we entered the park brilliant pink flamingos tell the "Tale of a Brackish Lagoon." These beautiful birds really stand out in their native habitat.

Heading south we follow the crowd to Mzima Springs where elephants play in a sparsely vegetated area. Both of these mammoths had recently enjoyed a mud bath when we visited. After gawking at them for a while we were attracted to Mandhari Ya Simba (Lion Overlook) by the roar of the King of Beasts. This remarkable creature kept us, and quite a large crowd, entertained with his repeated growls.

Masai Mara offered a look at a Black Rhino and in a separate area were a variety of creatures that easily cohabitate; giraffe, zebra, ostrich, and gazelle. It was enjoyable to watch God's creatures mingle, oblivious to the differences between them. At one point a giraffe shook the feeding bag so that the zebra standing beneath him could get some of his food.

Looping back towards the main walkway we came across our first view of the Ford African Rain Forest, an immense area where the gorillas live. This vast expanse was once home to Willie B. (after they let him out of that awful cage where a tire and tv set kept him company). Now his mates and his offspring, along with others of the specie, call this home. After visiting the Willie B. Conservation Center, which tells the story of the gorilla and has an enclosed viewing window, we continued on, watching the gorillas in various activities.

Each of the stops along the way was interpreted, and some had safari-clad "docents" willing to answer questions. Also, the signs used to identify the creatures contain much information, but you will have to flip through them to read it all. We found food throughout the park and the kids always love McDonald's, so we let them buy lunch at the McD's inside the zoo and top it off with dessert from the one just outside the zoo. There is a Ben and Jerry's inside as well, but not a lot for more mature palettes.

After visiting the Orangutans and the "World of Reptiles" (ugh!) we found the red pandas, probably the sweetest creatures in the zoo. Absolutely gorgeous, this smaller version of the larger black and white mammals who are the centerpiece of today's Zoo Atlanta. Since we arrived early on a Saturday, the wait to get into the Giant Pandas of Chengdau was minimal. These massive creatures are either eating or sleeping and while we were visiting they were splitting the duty, one munching continuously while the other slept.

Red panda at Zoo AtlantaNow it was time for the kids to have some fun. A small petting zoo lets the kids visit with some farm animals while we watched the "Wonderful Wetlands" for activity (we saw quite a bit). Along with some beautiful birds and a large tortoise are the Kroger Pavilion, the Endangered Species Carousel (I could not bring myself to ride on this one but the kids loved it), and a train that circles the entire area.

We missed the Tamarins (check the upper right corner of the map you get when you enter), but by the time we had completed the loop trail everyone was very tired. A quiet ride home in the car and I headed to my PC to write this while it was still fresh in my mind.

History of Zoo Atlanta

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