ZOO ATLANTA WILL CELEBRATE “WILLIE B. DAY”
Special Gorilla Keeper Talks, interactive educational activities, and a chance to spot Willie B. III on June 18
ATLANTA – June 8, 2023 – In celebration of the legacy of the best-known member of its animal population, Zoo Atlanta will celebrate “Willie B. Day” on Father’s Day on Sunday, June 18, 2023.
Guests will enjoy special Keeper Talks from the Gorilla Care Team, interactive educational activities on the Takamenda Gorilla Deck, and a chance to spot the late legend’s newest grandchild, Willie B. III, who was named in his honor last month. Activities will take place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Guests in the Ford Willie B. Gorilla Conservation Center will also have an opportunity to view scenes from the WSB-Channel 2 News historical special “The Life and Times of Willie B.,” which originally aired in 2001.
2023 marks the 35th anniversary year of Willie B.’s first entrance into the naturalistic Ford African Rain Forest – a moment that was celebrated with joy throughout Atlanta and beyond. Named for then mayor William B. Hartsfield, the famous western lowland gorilla arrived in Atlanta in 1961 as a youngster of around 2 years old. He spent his first 27 years at the Zoo in an indoor environment, becoming the face of the Zoo’s radical transformation in the 1980s. With his move to the new Ford African Rain Forest complex, he was introduced to female gorillas, becoming a successful troop leader and the father of five offspring. Four of his five children – daughters Kudzoo, Sukari, and Lulu and only son, Willie B. Jr. – live at Zoo Atlanta. His second daughter, Olympia, lives at another Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited organization. All five have now since had offspring of their own, making Willie B. a grandfather many times over.
More than 5,000 people attended Willie B.’s memorial in February 2000 when he passed away at the age of 42. He is immortalized at the life-sized Willie B. Memorial Statue near the entrance to The Ford African Rain Forest – the most popular photo-op at Zoo Atlanta.
Fans near and far are encouraged to share their recollections of Willie B. via email to WillieB@zooatlanta.org. Stay tuned to Zoo Atlanta Facebook and Instagram to share more memories on Sunday, June 18.
Guests 21 and up can try the Willie B. Legacy Lager, developed exclusively for Zoo Atlanta by SweetWater Brewery. A refreshing pilsner featuring notes of banana and orange, Willie B. Legacy Lager will be available through the season at Zoo Atlanta’s SweetWater Beer Garden and at Nourish Cafe. The SweetWater Beer Garden will be open from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Celebrate Willie B. III: Look for 1-month-old Willie B. III with his mother Shalia (pronounced Shuh-LAY-uh) at Gorilla Habitat 4. The infant is the firstborn of Willie B. Jr. A TikTok video posted on April 26, 2023, of the new father meeting his offspring for the first time has been viewed more than 8.5 million times.
Help Zoo Atlanta welcome the newest member of this beloved family legacy by purchasing items from a special Gorilla Baby Shower Wish List on zooatlanta.org. Selected by the Gorilla Care Team, items include construction materials for new play platforms, enrichment feeders, and more. Purchases will be shipped directly to Zoo Atlanta.
Willie B. and his namesakes represent far more than cherished Atlanta traditions. Zoo Atlanta is now home to one of North America’s largest populations of western lowland gorillas, which are critically endangered. Wild populations have plummeted in recent years as a result of habitat loss, poaching, illegal hunting for the bushmeat trade, and emerging diseases. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), over a 25-year period, these combined threats have reduced wild populations by 60 percent, with declines of as much as 90 percent in some parts of their range in western Africa.
The Zoo is home to one of North America’s largest populations of gorillas. Research by Zoo Atlanta team members has influenced the care of gorillas in zoos, as well as enhanced the world’s understanding of gorillas, with more than 100 published papers on maternal care, reproduction, social behavior, and cognition.
Zoo Atlanta supports the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Gorilla SAFE (Saving Animals From Extinction) Program, which focuses expertise within accredited zoos. For more than 20 years, the Zoo has supported its longtime partner in gorilla conservation, The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, by providing pro-bono headquarters space, information technology support, and financial resources. Zoo Atlanta also supports the Goualougo Triangle Ape Project, which works to mitigate threats to western lowland gorillas and other apes in the Congo Basin, through its Mabel Dorn Reeder Conservation Endowment Fund.
Plan a visit or learn more at zooatlanta.org.