Pandas to Present
Lun Lun and Yang Yang
The early years of the 21st century were challenging ones for Zoo Atlanta. Like many of the nation’s cultural attractions, the Zoo felt the impact of the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. Zoo leaders embarked on a crucial period of evaluation, aligning the Zoo’s mission of conservation, education and family fun with a new strategic plan that would guide the institution in a growing and changing city and state.
Maple announced his retirement from Zoo Atlanta in 2002, and Dennis W. Kelly assumed leadership as President and CEO in 2003. Outback Station, the final phase of the Orkin Children’s Zoo, opened in 2004, followed by The Living Treehouse, a new addition to The Ford African Rain Forest.
Kuchi and Twins-Kali and Kazi
Stealing the spotlight from baby gorillas would prove difficult, but in 2006, a tiny, hairless creature took the stage. Lun Lun and Yang Yang’s firstborn, Mei Lan, was the only giant panda cub born in the U.S. that year. Mei Lan, now a resident of China’s Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, would later be followed by two younger brothers: Xi Lan in 2008 and Po in 2010.
High-profile new exhibits marked a dynamic period of growth at Zoo Atlanta: Kalahari Connections (2007); naked mole rats (2008); and Boundless Budgies: A Parakeet Adventure (2009). A new decade also brought new leadership. Following the departure of Dennis Kelly, who accepted a position at Smithsonian’s National Zoo, Atlanta native Raymond King took the helm as President and CEO of Zoo Atlanta in 2010. King’s first exhibit opening was Trader’s Alley: Wildlife’s Fading Footprints (2010), followed by Complex Carnivores (2011) and Twiga Terrace (2012). Animal firsts would include Zuri, the Zoo’s first giraffe calf (2010); Sohni and Sanjiv, the first Sumatran tiger cubs born at Zoo Atlanta in more than a decade (2011); and Beauregard, the Zoo’s first eastern bongo calf (2011). In 2012, Zoo Atlanta celebrated the hatching of a rare Guatemalan beaded lizard, one of only seven ever hatched in captivity worldwide.
Now more than 120 years removed from its circus origins, Zoo Atlanta has evolved from a quaint picnic stop where people gawked at wild animals to a conservation organization seeking to engage the public in the lives of its animal ambassadors and the preservation of their counterparts in the wild. The long journey from Victorian curiosity to national leader has not been without its challenges, but the mission, animals, programs and people of Zoo Atlanta will ensure that history will continue to be made.