For the past several weekends, I’ve spent my Saturday or Sunday afternoons at Zoo Atlanta, which is located a few blocks from my home in Grant Park. As usual, I took a large number of photographs, ending out with nearly a thousand that I culled to a few hundred then uploaded some of my favorites to Flickr.

I learned a little about the history of the zoo while working on my Oakland Cemetery research, and discovered that Zoo Atlanta was one of many American zoos founded during the American Victorian era.  Following the Europeans — for whom, as A. N. Wilson describes in The Victorians, zoos were a cultural and scientific fascination — Americans also located their zoos in or near Victorian garden parks that became so prevalent in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

According to Franklin M. Garrett’s Atlanta And Environs: A Chronicle of it’s People and Events, Zoo Atlanta came to be after an Atlanta lumberman, George Gress, purchased some animals at auction from a defunct circus in 1889. Gress offered the animals to the city of Atlanta, a “costly collection of wild animals” consisting of “one hyena, two African lionesses, two silver lions, one black bear, two wildcats, one jaguar, one gazelle, one coon, one elk, one Mexican hog, two deer, one camel, one dromedary, two monkeys, [and] two serpents.”

Garrett describes the early decades of the zoo as “not particularly distinguished” until 1935 — when Asa G. Candler, Jr. “made a tender to the city of his valuable private collection … of wild animals and birds which he housed in specially built cages and quarters on his Briarcliff Road estate.”  Zoo Atlanta’s history page describes this incident also, and both Garrett and the Zoo explain how the Candler’s donation resolved the imaginable (or unimaginable!) problem of neighborhood complaints about the noise and smells from the philanthropist’s collection, as well as the dilemma of the occasional escaping baboon. The transfer of nearly 100 birds and 84 other animals from Candler’s estate to Grant Park nearly doubled the size of the zoo, ushering in one of it’s periods of great popularity as a city attraction.

This early history — especially the connection between the birth of Zoo Atlanta and the American Victorian period — is certainly one of the reasons why I think it would have been an tragedy if the zoo had been relocated out of Grant Park, something that was being considered in 2007. A great part of the significance of Zoo Atlanta is its history, and what we would certainly consider today as an unusual physical space: the presence of a sizeable zoo in the middle of a city, surrounded by a massive park, next to the Atlanta Cyclorama, and nestled among the Victorian homes of the Grant Park neighborhood. While I’m sure the relocated zoo would have ultimately been spectacular, it could never have been like Zoo Atlanta, and the connection between the place and its history would have been forever lost. We should not be so willing to dissolve the bonds between the physical spaces we treasure, and the community and its history.

Now, to a few of the pictures….

The adult gorillas always strike me as so serious and intelligent looking. I swear, if the look in my eyes is ever as thoughtful as this gorilla, I’d be impressed with myself. This is my favorite shot of the gorilla; click the picture (and any of the pictures below) for a larger view.

The orangutans, on the other hand, alternate constantly among so many different expressions. I’m convinced that this one must have just pulled a prank on one of the others, and as you watch them play and interact with each other, you can’t help but notice the obvious relationships among them, and those relationships are seldom subtle and almost never deferential. The rest of the gorilla and orangutan pictures that I took on my three outings are here.

This was the first time in my recent frequent trips to the zoo that I’d seen the giraffes. I loved taking their pictures. I felt fortunate to get this shot, with this sort of composition, that I like to call “three-headed giraffe.” It’s three separate giraffes (of course!) but the flattening effect of the photo does make you look twice, doesn’t it? The other giraffe pictures are here.

It was a lazy day for the lemurs; it’s actually a little tough to get a shot like this, since they’re usually either tucked away in some corner of their space, or racing up and down the tree trunks and branches, or out of site in the lower sections of the exhibit.

I watched this pair of sleeping lemurs for a long time … half an hour or more maybe … and snapped several shots like this. What a great way to take a nap!

Meerkats are relatively new to the zoo, and they’re very photogenic. Well, that’s probably not that important — to the meerkats anyway — but they are fascinating to watch; and like the otters and lemurs, they’re constantly busy (at least when they’re not sleeping) and as you watch for a while, you can’t help but begin to notice how they relate to and interact with each other. The rest of the otter and meerkat pictures are here.

I don’t know what kind of birds these are (I call them toucans, yet I doubt that’s what they are), but the iridescent dark blue is amazing. My pictures from the outdoor aviary, along with some pictures of flamingos, are here.

Does this remind you of anyone? I hope not!

A better view, here:

The rest of the elephant pictures, with a few of some color-coordinated rhinos, are here.

No zoo would be complete without a goodly bunch of animals that make lots of people squirm, and Zoo Atlanta’s reptile house is no exception. This is one of my favorite shots, in terms of color, intensity, and overall squirminess. The rest of the reptile shots are here.

My recent extended visits have given me a new appreciation of the zoo, and have increased my curiosity about the history of zoos and their cultural significance. Here are links to two books on zoos and their history, and one on our relationship with animals and nature, about to become part of my library:

Zoo: A History of Zoological Gardens in the West by Eric Baratay and Elisabeth Hardouin-Fugier

Animal Attractions: Nature on Display in American Zoos by Elizabeth Hanson

Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, edited by William Cronon

More on the books when I read them. Thanks for stopping by; I hope you enjoyed this article and my photos from the Zoo!

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