Since 1998, the number of endangered animal species has tripled to over 3,000 according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Atlanta is home to several of those species and now, thanks to the efforts of Zoo Atlanta and the Georgia Aquarium, many of them reside in the city as part of species survival plans. Here's where to find them:
Guatemalan beaded lizard (Heloderma charlesbogerti) - This critically endangered, venomous species can be found inside new opened Scaly Slimy Spectacular: The Amphibian and Reptile Experience at Zoo Atlanta. With fewer than 200 of these lizards in the world, Zoo Atlanta's partnership with the Foundation for the Endangered Species of Guatemala, is crucial in helping to purchase and protect lizard habitat, combat illegal trade and educate local Guatemalans who have feared the lizard for centuries.
African penguin (Spheniscus demersus) - Downgraded from "Vulnerable" to "Endangered" in 2010, the African Penguin is the victim of a shrinking South Africa habitat. One place where it's thriving is Georgia Aquarium. Found inside the attraction's Cold Water Quest gallery, the African Penguin Habitat is a kid-friendly favorite with crawl-in tunnels and pop-in viewing bubbles for up close encounter with the dozens of African Penguins that call the aquarium home.
Western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) - Zoo Atlanta is home to the largest collection of the critically endangered western lowland gorillas in North America and serves as the home to the international headquarters of The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and the Great Ape Heart Project. Adult male gorillas are prone to cardiomyopathy, making Zoo Atlanta's research critical in species survival. Western lowland gorilla populations have decreased greatly in the last decade due to Ebola outbreaks in their natural habitat.
Whale shark (Rhincodon typus) – These giants of the sea, which are some of Georgia Aquarium's most loved species, have a conservation status of vulnerable. Finding their home inside Ocean Voyager, these slow-swimming creatures are believed to have originated on Earth about 60 million years ago. The whale shark population has decreased in recent years due to heavy fishing due to demand in Asia for whale shark meat and shark fins.
Giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) - Zoo Atlanta is currently home to four giant pandas, including the only panda twins in the US. Through successful breeding Zoo Atlanta has been able to send three cubs to China to live at one of the over 40 Panda reserves designed to protect the few thousand pandas currently alive. Guests can get up close to the pandas during a special animal encounter offered at select times throughout the week.
Pacific seahorse (Hippocampus ingens) – This "Vulnerable" species calls Georgia Aquarium's Pacific Diver gallery home though they may be a little hard to see because they're so good at camouflaging themselves within their surroundings. Another victim of habitat loss, the seahorse is perhaps best known because the males of the species carry fertilized eggs in a pouch before giving birth to hundreds of baby seahorses.
Both attractions will celebrate Endangered Species Day this weekend with special programming. On Saturday, Zoo Atlanta will highlight our planet's endangered species with special keeper talks and family activities. Friday through Sunday, Georgia Aquarium will host educational experiences featuring African penguins, whale sharks, coral, and how conservation efforts have helped save the American alligator from vanishing. At both attractions, the activities are included with admission.
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Credit: John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com