Georgia on my mind: It’s a Zoo!

This week I’m in Atlanta for a business trip and I was able to sneak in some fun beforehand.

And what better place to monkey around than Zoo Atlanta.

Zoo Atlanta is one of the premier zoos in the country and one of only three zoos in the US that is home to the endangered pandas. (The National Zoo, Memphis Zoo and Zoo Atlanta – have pandas by the way)

I’ve always adored Pandas (who doesn’t love pandas – they are cute and unique) so the opportunity to see them on my Georgia adventure was exciting.

Located in the heart of the city’s historic Grant Park area, Zoo Atlanta was founded in 1889! In it’s over 130-year history, the zoo helped lead environmental movements in conservation, as well as upheavals and triumphs.

I arrived at the zoo at 10 a.m. and spent two hours exploring the plains of the African Savanna – where I encountered endangered white rhinos, majestic elephants, suave zebras and the Lion Kings of Zoo Atlanta.

Elephants are amazingly intelligent and industrious. They value community and are highly social. I enjoyed watching the elephants forage for treats in their habitat.

After visiting the African plains, I encountered the mighty Western lowland gorillas in the African Rainforest exhibit.

Gorilla’s are an unofficial mascot of the zoo. The zoo made a landmark transition in 1961 when it introduced the infant gorilla, Willie B. Named after Atlanta Mayor William B. Hartsfield, Willie B became a beloved symbol of Atlanta. He was the zoo ambassador for 41 years. He is still remembered throughout the zoo and his legacy lives on in the next generation of the zoo gorillas.

Zoo Atlanta has a large, lush gorilla habitat perfect for the mighty warriors.

I spied a large gorilla cooling in the shade, sitting cross legged, eyes closed. He looked as though he was meditating and I had to pause and thank God for creating such an amazing animal.

Facts about the Zoo Atlanta gorillas

Western lowland gorillas may be seen year-round as long as the air temperatures are above 40 degrees. In cooler temperatures or in inclement weather, the gorillas may choose to spend time in their indoor areas.

The western lowland gorilla habitat consists of 1.8 acres and is broken up into five separate habitats, one of which is not visible to guests. Double moats separate these habitats and groups. Habitats are numbered from right to left (1 to 5) if looking from the public viewing area. Habitat 4 is behind Habitat 3, and Habitat 5 is out of view.

Western lowland gorillas are primarily herbivorous, feeding on plant parts including seeds, leaves, stems, shoots, roots and flowers; however, they prefer fruit whenever it’s in season. Occasionally they will eat insects, such as termites or ants, as a supplement to their diet when they are readily available. Due to their dietary preferences, western lowland gorillas spend a lot of their time in and around trees, especially fruit trees.

You can learn more about Atlanta’s troop of gorillas here. The zoo even has a live feed so you can visit them virtually from anywhere!

Panda-monium!

Atlanta is one of only three US zoos and research centers home to pandas. And the work being done at Zoo Atlanta is helping to ensure this magnificent creature thrives for years to come.

Deforestation and other threats have depleted the natural environment of pandas in China. But China and the world are determined to save the panda. Zoo Atlanta partners with China to help conserve pandas.

“The giant pandas at Zoo Atlanta are on loan from China. The Zoo pays an annual loan fee for the pandas, and this money is used for giant panda conservation. Zoo Atlanta has contributed over $10 million for conservation of giant pandas in China, making giant pandas the Zoo’s most significant long-term financial investment in wildlife conservation. The majority of these funds are used for projects for wild giant pandas, and eight different nature reserves have been supported with these funds. Our supported projects fall under three categories: research, infrastructure and management. Examples of the projects include research on genetic diversity; construction of protection stations; reserve management and reforestation projects; and purchase of equipment used by reserve staff to census and monitor giant panda populations.”

Panda babies: In 2016, Zoo Atlanta welcomed twins Xi Lun and Ya Lun – it was a worldwide celebration. These twins are still best friends and I got to see them today napping in the panda habitat. You can catch a peak of the pandas on Panda Cam – click here

Panda facts:

  • Pandas have excellent camouflage for their habitat
  • Their eyes are different than normal bears – pandas eyes, like domestic cats, have vertical slits for pupils
  • Baby pandas have a mothers love: Mother pandas keep close watch on their babies – cuddling with them 100% of the time during their first month of life
  • Pandas can swim and even climb trees
  • Pandas have an extended wrist bone that they use like a thumb that helps them grip food like bamboo
  • And speaking of bamboo – 99% of a panda’s diet is bamboo. As bamboo has a low nutritional value, the Giant Panda has to spend a lot of time eating. The staff at Zoo Atlanta offer each adult panda about 80 pounds of various bamboo species and the pandas choose about 1/3 of their panda buffet.
  • Pandas sleep 10-12 hours a day, in intervals of 2-3 hours at a time in between eating (what a life!)

To learn more about and support the amazing pandas at Zoo Atlanta – click here to learn more.

Tigers and Bears oh my!

I love cats – my mini ‘tiger’ (orange tabby) Cezanne – has a bit of tiger in her.

But seeing the formidable Asian Tiger in person is always an experience, even if today this gorgeous feline was enjoying a deep nap under the trees. (I have to admit after an early morning flight – the idea of a cat nap was a good idea)

Next door I fell in LOVE with the Malayan Sun Bear! This is the first time I’d seen a sun bear in person and they stole my heart. One was relaxing, taking a bear nap in the sun, with the other bear roaming around the habitat.

Native to southeast Asia, these arboreal bears are known for their distinctive golden colored patch of fur on their chests. Each sun bear has its own unique patch – like a fingerprint.

Commercial production of palm oil and poaching for traditional medicines have severely threatened this species.

Habitat enrichment and conservation:

Zoo Atlanta like other zoos help immensely with conservation efforts, including research and education to help save these endangered species so they can continue to thrive and survive in the wild.

Each of the animals living at Zoo Atlanta are given toys, a wonderful diet and enrichment to ensure they have a wonderful life.

Next up we’re going to discover some artistic happiness at the High Museum of Art!

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