It was a big year at Zoo Atlanta.
In 2016 the Grant Park attraction entertained almost a million visitors and said hello to a second pair of giant panda twins.
The increased visitation — which has grown 40 percent since 2010 — brings zoo attendance to heights not experienced since the pandas first arrived in the year 2000, luring just over one million visitors.
The excitement of that event was fanned by national coverage and massive publicity. “They had every kind of hoopla you could imagine,” said Raymond B. King, president and CEO of Zoo Atlanta.
UPS, which flew Lun Lun and Yang Yang to Atlanta, even painted pandas on its airplanes.
With 998,000 visitors in 2016, the zoo came within inches of that high water mark.
It has also been a year of population increases.
Notable births included the panda twins; a new grandchild for Willie B., two Angolan colobus babies, a Schmidt’s guenon infant; chinchilla kits; Burmese star tortoises, pancake tortoises and eastern box turtles; flamingo chicks; milky eagle owls; a wreathed hornbill chick; and Guatemalan beaded lizards.
(The beaded lizard is one of the world’s rarest lizard species, with only a few hundred living in a single valley in Guatemala.)
The zoo also successfully completed a fund-drive to pay for new facilities, including renovations to the old Cyclorama building, a new entry plaza, a new administration building and an expanded African savanna exhibit, exceeding the $38 million goal by $4 million.
How did they do it?
“There is an increased demand for quality outdoor activities,” said King, “and we’ve proven we can do it, rain or shine, hot or cold.”
The newest stars at the zoo, twin baby pandas Ya Lun and Xi Lun, are just learning to walk and have ventured into the day room and public view. You can see them on the PandaCam.