A Day at the Zoo

Zoo Atlanta is making a splash in many new ways this summer: Just opened Splash Fountain, expanded Wild Encounters adventures, a new family volunteer program, and plenty of new animals, including some newborns: A Western lowland gorilla, a Sumatra orangutan, a Golden Lion tamarin, a Lesser kudu and an Eastern bongo. And the most recent additions, twin panda cubs, expected to be seen by zoo visitors this fall.

Splash Fountain

When the 18 water jets soared toward the sky on July 2, Sidney Hawkins, age 3½, said it all in one word: “WOW!” Sidney and his mom, Ayanna, were among the lucky ones to give the fountain a trial run on opening day, and the spray pad was an instant hit. The free fountain will be open daily into October, weather permitting. It’s in the zoo’s KidZone. Kids also can climb a 25-foot wall, ride a carousel, or climb aboard a train for a tour of the zoo’s perimeter (Additional fees apply).

Aldabra Tortoise Wild Encounter

Aldabra Tortoise Wild Encounter participants are led inside the gate of the largest living tortoise exhibit, where our guide shared the history of these 100-plus year-old creatures and demonstrated how zookeepers train the ancient giants. Children could pet and feed the two giant tortoises, placing food at the end of a stick, a safe distance from the tortoises’ sharp teeth. While feeding, the zookeeper instructed us to stand to the left or right of the tortoises because their eyes are located on the sides of their head. From the Seychelles Islands to Zoo Atlanta, these creatures have quite a history, which we enjoyed learning. Weighing between 300 and 600 pounds, they move rather slowly but were friendly and curious as the children entered their home. But be sure to watch your feet! You wouldn’t want these giants stepping on tiny toes.

Lemur Wild Encounter

My 7-year-old son has been fascinated with King Julian of the Madagascar movies, so we were thrilled to “move it, move it” to the new lemur encounter. We began with an introduction to the lemur habitat. While our group watched the lemurs play, hang, scurry and screech, we learned the zoo is home to two varieties of lemurs, the Black and White Ruffed and the Ring-Tailed. Because lemurs are mammals like us, they’re in danger of getting the same kinds of illnesses we can, so we put on face masks and gloves before heading to the opposite side of the lemur habitat, where we could get up close to the animals and speak with the zookeeper. The lemurs were not shy, coming close to show off their climbing skills. They seemed to know that visitors = food! While the zookeeper pointed out parts of the lemur’s anatomy, including their secret weapon scent glands, we got to see their hierarchy in action. Girls rule and boys drool in lemur land, with the most dominant one, a grandma named Luna, keeping everyone in line.
When it was time for feeding, we used our gloved hands to give the lemurs French fry-shaped fruit slices. They took them gently with their mouths, or transferred them to their hands. It was interesting to see how human-like their fingers and nails are!
– Dalia Faupel

Family Volunteer Program

Are your kids zooaholics? They now have a new reason to spend even more time with the animals! A new volunteer program lets children age 8 and older volunteer with their families. The program requires an annual family membership; attendance at a volunteer orientation; purchase of a volunteer T-shirt ($10) and name badge ($5), and a commitment of at least two hours of service on scheduled volunteer days. Details at zooatlanta.org/home/volunteer/family_volunteer.

About Wild Encounters

The zoo has expanded its program that lets kids and adults get up close with animals. In addition to close encounters with a Giant Panda, Komodo dragon and African Elephant, visitors now can go behind-the-scenes with lemurs and Aldabra tortoises. Reservations are recommended. Walkups may be available. Encounters are limited to 6-10 people. Cost per person, in addition to zoo admission: $35 for the tortoise and Komodo dragon adventures; $50 for the lemurs; $75 for the African elephant, and $150 to see Lun Lun the panda (currently on maternity leave). Book at zooatlanta.org.

If You Go

Zoo Atlanta
800 Cherokee Ave., Atlanta. zooatlanta.org; 404-624-5600
Open: Mon.-Sun., 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.. Open Sat. and Sun. until 6:30 p.m. through Labor Day. Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Admission: $21.99 adults (age 12 and older); $16.99 children ages 3-11; free for children age 2 and younger. Annual Family Membership $109; Companion Membership $89. Parking is free.