Meet Willie B.
A legend in his own time, remembered fondly by generations of Atlantans, and an icon of the transformation of Zoo Atlanta, Willie B. the western lowland gorilla lived at the Zoo from 1961 until his passing in 2000 at the age of 42.
Born in Africa, he arrived at the Zoo in 1961. He was named for former Atlanta Mayor William B. Hartsfield and quickly became the Zoo’s best-known animal. At the time, he was the Zoo’s only gorilla.
During the first many years of Willie B.’s life, animal spaces in zoos were designed very differently than they are today. Until the age of 29, he lived in an indoor environment.
On May 13, 1988, Willie B. had his first opportunity to step outside since his babyhood with the opening of the Zoo’s Ford African Rain Forest. Around 25,000 people – attendance at that time considered unprecedented for the Zoo – came to see him in his spacious new outdoor habitat.
The Ford African Rain Forest would become the home of a new group of gorillas, some of whom became the mothers of Willie B.’s five offspring: Kudzoo, Olympia, Sukari, Willie B., Jr., and Lulu.
Willie B. passed away in February 2000. His memorial service, where he was eulogized by Ambassador Andrew Young, was attended by more than 5,000 people.
His legacy lives on in what is now an internationally-recognized gorilla program and in his children and grandchildren. A memorial to Willie B. stands outside the Ford African Rain Forest and is the Zoo’s most visited photo opportunity.