Cute With a Cause at Zoo Atlanta
While a day trip to the Zoo might get you up close and personal with your favorite animals, Zoo Atlanta goes beyond appearances and straight to the heart of the matter. Many of the species living here are endangered, which means conservation efforts are key to their survival. Whether you’re a giant panda fan or googly-eyes for gorillas, here are four of Zoo Atlanta’s cutest animals with a cause.
Pandas live a pretty low-key lifestyle. One of the main reasons for this is their diet; they primarily eat bamboo, which doesn’t have a ton of nutrients. In the wild, you’ll find these bears only in high-elevation, cool mountain areas in the Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces of China.
Zoo Atlanta is one of only four zoos in the United States housing this species, which is currently classified as vulnerable in the wild. There are even twins named Ya Lun and Xi Lun—the only set of giant panda twins in the U.S. Earlier this spring, Zoo attendees witnessed Ya Lun and Xi Lun exploring their outdoor habitat for the first time. So far, Ya Lun is the more adventurous of the two, while Xi Lun takes new experiences more cautiously.
As popular as giant pandas are with their countless fans, there aren’t that many of them left in the wild. To assist with conservation efforts, Zoo Atlanta has contributed over $10 million for giant pandas in China, making this species the Zoo’s most significant long-term investment in wildlife conservation. Support from Zoo Atlanta benefits wild giant pandas on eight nature reserves.
Western lowland gorilla
Zoo Atlanta is home to North America’s largest population of western lowland gorillas. Gorilla troops are usually led by a dominant silverback along with several adult females and their offspring, although the Zoo is also home to three all-male bachelor groups. In the wild, these West African herbivores live in rainforests and are highly social apes with a strong sense of community.
The newest addition to Zoo Atlanta’s largest family group is an infant named Mijadala, meaning “discussions” in Swahili. Her birth was a major milestone for the Zoo, especially since her species is critically endangered. Zoo Atlanta has an internationally recognized gorilla program and supports wild gorillas and their habitats through a longtime partnership with The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, which has its headquarters at the Zoo.
The name “orangutan” comes from “Orang Hutan,” which means “person of the forest.” Unlike other great apes, orangutans are a solitary species and are the only great apes found in Asia. Unfortunately, both species of orangutans—Sumatran and Bornean—are critically endangered because of habitat loss, largely as a result of unsustainable production of one of our society’s most commonplace household ingredients: palm oil.
Zoo Atlanta is home to several orangutan youngsters, one of whom is Pelari. He’s a Bornean orangutan who was born September 14, 2013. Zoo Atlanta is home to one of the largest populations of orangutans in the U.S., and has an important opportunity to help guests understand the importance of being a conscientious consumer to help save orangutans and many other endangered species.
Zoo Atlanta houses the diamondback terrapin, a species unique among all turtles (except sea turtles) because it lives in coastal brackish waters, which is a mixture of fresh and saltwater. Found in North America, these omnivorous reptiles mostly eat clams and shrimp by using their beaks and jaw muscles to crush hard outer shells. While diamondback terrapins were once hunted almost to extinction for food, highway collisions are one of their primary threats today.
In an effort to promote conservation, Zoo Atlanta participates in the Georgia Sea Turtle Center’s Jekyll Island Causeway Conservation Program. The Zoo assists in this program by rearing young terrapins in Scaly Slimy Spectacular’s Georgia Tidal Creek; when the turtles are around a year old, they are transferred back to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. In 2016 alone, the Zoo transferred 23 diamondback terrapins to Jekyll Island, where they will be prepared for release back into the wild. Since highway mortality is a major threat to the species, extra attention is placed on roadside management.