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The Must-See Animals at Zoo Atlanta

January 10, 2023

A trip to the zoo is the perfect family-friendly activity to pencil into your schedule when you visit a new city. Both kids and adults alike can delight in exploring the wild side of our planet by seeing creatures from faraway lands. Zoo Atlanta is no exception — it currently houses more than 1,300 animals that represent more than 220 species from around the world.

Since there are so many animals at Zoo Atlanta to see and lots of activities to do, we have created a handy guide so you won’t miss the zoo’s top exhibits and wildlife.

Your Soon-To-Be Favorite Animals at Zoo Atlanta

The grounds of Zoo Atlanta cover 40 acres in Atlanta’s Grant Park, where the zoo has thrived since its founding in 1889. In 1985, the zoo was privatized, renamed, and restored so that it could better house a variety of animals. Today, all of the wildlife at Zoo Atlanta is spread across seven animal habitats, in addition to a number of aviaries that house exotic birds from around the world. Here’s a look at some of the most popular Zoo Atlanta animals and the reasons why they’re about to become your new favorites.

African Elephants

One of the most beloved animals, African elephants are the stars of the show at Zoo Atlanta. They live in the African Savanna habitat, which mimics a watering hole on the savanna. Animal care professionals also take care of and research these majestic creatures in the indoor Zambezi Elephant Center, where there’s an observation area open to the public.

With their distinct large ears and long, powerful trunks, African elephants are one of three species in the Order Proboscidea, a group that managed to survive the Pleistocene Era. They live in large families that are headed by a matriarch, who usually leads the group for many years. In the wild, African elephants roam the savanna in search of food and water. In 2019, Zoo Atlanta expanded the elephants’ habitat so that they would have three times the space to roam, as in the wild.

Bornean Orangutans

Orangutans are part of the great ape family but are distinct in that they usually live alone and not in groups. At Zoo Atlanta, you can spot them in the Asian Forest habitat, either outside or cozied up inside in their indoor nests.

In the wild, Bornean orangutans spend their days in the trees looking for fruit. Since these animals normally live up high in the treetops, their habitat at Zoo Atlanta gives them space to swing and climb. As orangutans are incredibly smart, zookeepers design activities and challenges to keep them active and explore their natural behaviors.

Sumatran Tigers

Due to habitat loss, all species of tigers are threatened. Zoo Atlanta is committed to their conservation and has a number of Sumatran tigers in the Asian Forest habitat. These big cats blend in very well with their surroundings, so you have to keep your eyes peeled to see them.

These carnivores will eat any kind of meat in front of them. Just like smaller cats, tigers love to play with toys, bat things around, and chew on bones or other objects. While other cats hate water, though, tigers love to swim.

African Lions

African lions are the king of the African Savanna, including in Zoo Atlanta. They live in groups called prides in which they have their own social norms. These powerful creatures are excellent hunters since they have incredible speed, large teeth, and sharp claws that allow them to take down prey much bigger than they are.

These big cats spend their time napping or playing, as Zoo Atlanta has several activities and enrichment activities for them each day. This keeps their natural behaviors in place so that they live similarly to how they would in the wild.

If you really want to take a walk on the wild side, visit Wild Animal Safari in Pine Mountain, Georgia, about an hour away. This company offers drive-through wild animal safari tours that feature a number of African animals, including lions.

Western Lowland Gorillas

Did you know that Atlanta has one of the largest gorilla populations in North America? Check out the Ford African Rainforest exhibit where you’ll find a number of western lowland gorillas. The zoo’s most famous gorilla, Willie B., passed away in 2000, but six of his grandchildren still live in Zoo Atlanta.

Adult and baby gorillas live in groups, called troops, that have one male silverback as the leader. They will usually hang around outside, but on cooler days they may move into their indoor habitat. The Ford African Rainforest covers nearly two acres and is broken up into five smaller areas, four of which are open to the public.

Giant Pandas

Zoo Atlanta’s notable animals list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the giant pandas. This zoo is only one of three in the country that currently houses this species. Two adult giant pandas, Lun Lun and Yang Yang, joined Zoo Atlanta in 1999. The zoo built a conservation center focused on animal welfare and preserving the species just for these gentle giants.

Even though giant pandas usually prefer to spend their time alone, Lun Lun and Yang Yang have produced seven giant panda cubs since 2006. The five oldest cubs were relocated to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in China, but Lun Lun, Yang Yang, and the two youngest cubs still live in Zoo Atlanta.

Pandas are quite interesting since they are vegetarians that live almost completely on bamboo, a low-energy food. Their lives have adapted to this food source, so they’ve adapted to a low-energy lifestyle as well. In the warmer months, they will probably hang out inside their climate-controlled habitat, but in cooler months they will wander both inside and outside. Zoo Atlanta also has a live-streaming PandaCam so you can check in on the panda family from anywhere.

Get Tickets to Zoo Atlanta and Other Popular Attractions

If you want to see the wild side of Atlanta, as well as all of the city’s other top sights, a CityPASS® ticket can save you up to at five of the top attractions. Aside from Zoo Atlanta, you get access to four other top spots at lower prices when compared to buying individual tickets. So what are you waiting for? Plan your adventure in Atlanta with Atlanta CityPASS® tickets!

Atlanta Lodging

To get the most out of your stay in Atlanta, we recommend finding lodging near Atlanta's top attractions. Use this map to find the right lodging for you:

Header image Courtesy of Zoo Atlanta.

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