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Zoo Atlanta honored with AZA Edward H. Bean Award
Monday, October 3, 2011

Prestigious award coincides with 50th anniversary of nationally-renowned gorilla program

ATLANTA – October 3, 2011 ― Fifty years after the arrival of the legendary late Willie B., Zoo Atlanta has received the 2011 Edward H. Bean Award for Significant Achievement from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) in recognition of a long-term commitment to critically endangered western lowland gorillas.

Established in 1956, the Edward H. Bean Award was originally created to honor noteworthy firsts in animal births and hatchings within the AZA community, but has since evolved to recognize exceptional programs contributing to the reproductive success of individual species. The honors were conferred during the AZA annual conference, co-hosted by Zoo Atlanta and the Georgia Aquarium the week of September 12.

“We are extremely proud to be a 2011 recipient of the Bean Award, particularly in the year that marks 50 years of gorillas at Zoo Atlanta,” said Raymond King, President and CEO. “This award is one of the top honors given annually by AZA, and we’re delighted to have our gorilla program recognized by our peers in wildlife care and conservation.”

Since Willie B.’s youth as a solitary ape, and particularly since the landmark opening of The Ford African Rain Forest in 1988, Zoo Atlanta has earned a national reputation for the care and study of western lowland gorillas. Notable accomplishments include the second-largest number of captive-born, mother-reared gorillas in AZA; ongoing commitment to the housing and management of male gorillas; and leadership in the Great Ape Heart Project. Research published by Zoo staff has influenced industry-wide improvements to the management of gorillas in captivity, as well as enhanced understanding of the species’ biology, with 75 papers on maternal care and reproduction, social behavior and cognition. The organization also contributes to conservation of wild gorillas through support of The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, which is housed at Zoo Atlanta.

Zoo Atlanta is now home to the nation’s largest collection of western lowland gorillas, with 23 individuals living in distinct social groups. The Zoo’s newest arrival, female Merry Leigh, was born to Kudzoo on May 9, 2011. Merry Leigh is the third grandchild of Willie B., who passed away in 2000.