In 1984, Zoo Atlanta was rated as one of the worst zoos in the nation. Then zoo leadership and the Atlanta community rallied to turn things around. Is it worth visiting Zoo Atlanta today?
How the Atlanta Zoo Was Established
Founded in the late 1880s when a traveling circus broke down and went bankrupt in Atlanta, Atlanta Zoo opened in Grant Park with a jaguar, hyena, black bear, camels, and other creatures. The zoo expanded significantly in 1935 when Asa G. Candler, Jr., founder of Coca-Cola and former Atlanta mayor, donated his own collection of exotic animals to the zoo.
Under the leadership of Dr. Terry Maple, an experienced primate behaviorist who was made the new zoo director, and the support of the Atlanta community, the Atlanta zoo experienced a tremendous turnaround. By the time Atlanta hosted the Olympics in 1996, the Atlanta Zoo had evolved from one of the worst in the nation to world class.
Pro Tip: If you have a zoo membership, like the Kansas City Zoo’s Friends of the Zoo program, be sure to ask about any discounts at the ticket office. We received 50% off our tickets through this program.
What We Loved
There are only four places to see giant pandas in the United States, and Zoo Atlanta is one of them. Zoo Atlanta has the additional honor of being the birthplace of female panda twins Mei Lun and Mei Huan, the first twin pandas to be born in the US since 1987. Unfortunately, the panda twins said goodbye to Zoo Atlanta in November 2016 to return to China per the rules of the “panda diplomacy” program, but you can still experience the other giant pandas at the Atlanta Zoo via indoor and outdoor enclosures.
Related Post: Seeing Giant Pandas in the US
Lots of Glass-Free, Naturalistic Enclosures
Long gone are the days of cement floors and cold metal bars. Thank goodness! Plus also, the ample glass-free viewing areas allow for great photos.
Scaly, Slimy Spectacular
Featuring more than 70 species of amphibians and reptiles, the newly opened, 14,000 square foot Scaly, Slimy Spectacular is quite, well, spectacular! It replaces the World of Reptiles exhibit, the oldest exhibit at the zoo.
A Bit Disappointing
The Train in the Kid Zone
While the train was adorable, the ride was the same price as the train at the Kansas City Zoo, but a much shorter experience.
The Admission Fee
Because we are Friends of the Kansas City Zoo, we received a hefty discount at the ticket counter. Without that reciprocal discount, full price tickets to the zoo are a bit expensive. Discounted tickets are offered online if purchased in advance of your visit, and be sure to ask for reciprocal zoo membership discounts.
The Verdict About Visiting Zoo Atlanta
Overall, we really enjoyed our visit! Zoo Atlanta is on the smaller side but nicely done, especially the giant panda exhibit. I actually preferred the panda experience at Zoo Atlanta to the world-renowned San Diego Zoo.
What about you? Have you visited Zoo Atlanta? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!