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Happy 125th Birthday Zoo Atlanta | News

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Happy 125th Birthday Zoo Atlanta

ATLANTA -- Atlanta's oldest cultural destination celebrated its 125th anniversary Friday. Zoo Atlanta turned 125 years old.

The zoo started when a traveling circus headed to Marietta in March 1889 stalled just south of its destination, had money problems and went bankrupt.

Left in their cages, the animals drew crowds of spectators and two weeks later, businessman George Valentine Gress bought the animals at a public auction and donated the animals to the city of Atlanta.

The first zoo animals is said to have included a jaguar, hyena, elk, raccoon, black bear and camels. First known as the Gress Zoological Park, the Zoo opened to the public in April 1889.

"Almost everything about the story of our origins seems strange to us today – the idea of wild animals being available at auction, the concept of building housing for them in a matter of days, the notion that no one alive in Atlanta would have had the foggiest idea about how to care for most of them. It's almost unreal," said Raymond B. King, President and CEO. "But the story also has two very important things in common with the Zoo of today. These were the visions and convictions that the City deserved a great zoo, and the overwhelming interest the community showed in getting behind that zoo and helping it to succeed – a vision and conviction that is still true today."

"It's amazing to consider what has been built in these 125 years. Where we once celebrated Willie B.'s first trip
outside, we now celebrate his grandchildren. Where we once celebrated the arrival of giant pandas, we now look
back on the births of five cubs, including the only giant panda twins in the U.S.," King said. "Not only do we have
these causes for celebration, but we are also now considered national leaders and influencers in these centers of
excellence. Mr. Gress would probably be astonished, but most of all I think he would have been deeply proud and
thrilled to see his vision realized in such a way. We have an interesting history, but our future will be even more so."