Founded in 1889, Zoo Atlanta is a testament to the humanitarian action of one man. In 1889, a traveling circus heading for Marietta, Georgia ran into money trouble and ended up stranded in Atlanta. Abandoned in their cages, the animals began to attract the attention of the curious. Two weeks after the owner of the menagerie declared bankruptcy, local lumber magnate purchased the animals and their cages at auction, then donated the entire parcel to the city of Atlanta. The animals were relocated and given a new home at Grant Park, and the zoo opened to wide enthusiasm. The original stock of the zoo included jaguars, lionesses, pumas, black bears, hyenas, camels, snakes, and more.
In the 1930s, the Atlanta Zoo at Grant Park got a major boost to its collection when a wealthy city resident, Asa G. Candler, Jr., found himself in a bit of a pickle with the city. He had collected an extensive menagerie which he kept on his estate, much to the chagrin of his neighbors, who objected to the inevitable smells and noises emanating from his estate. He solved his problem by offering the collection of animals to the city on the condition that the city of Atlanta raise the funds required to house and maintain the animals properly. The city launched a successful fund-raising drive, and in 1935, the Grant Park Zoo nearly doubled its population when it added elephants, leopards, water buffalo, elk, zebra, birds, a hyena and a sea lion, and a tiger to its permanent collection.
Over the next fifty years, the zoo tried to keep up with trends in animal housing and zoo technology, but the concrete cages and iron bars of the older facility were becoming rapidly outdated. Despite attempts to raise funds and update the facilities, by the 1970s, the zoo had fallen into disrepair. Perhaps the lowest point of the zoo's history came in 1983, when Parade Magazine named the Atlanta Zoo one of the ten worst zoos in the country. Amid public outcry, the zoo lost its accreditation and the city convened a crisis team to set a new direction for the zoo. In 1985, the zoo was privatized and a new governing council emerged with a new, young name - Zoo Atlanta - and fresh plan for redevelopment. Over the next several years, the new Zoo undertook renovations and projects, including reducing the population at the zoo and new naturalistic exhibits for the animals.
Today, Zoo Atlanta has emerged from its past as a Victorian curiosity shop to become a world class zoo, fully accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, pursuing its mission to educate young people and raise awareness of the natural world.
The zoo is open year round, except Christmas and Thanksgiving; hours are from 9:30-5:30 Monday through Friday, 9:30-6:30 Saturday and Sunday. Adult admission is $18.99, and children 3-11 cost $13.99. Discounts are available for groups, and special rates apply for senior citizens, military and college students. More details on hours and admissions at Zoo Atlanta by calling 404-624-WILD.