Did something in this week’s Access Point photo game look familiar? It certainly did to Twitter users @ratpack and @lisaashmore — they were the first to correctly guess that it was the Willie B. statue at Zoo Atlanta.
The most famous, of course, is Willie B., a 400-pound silverback gorilla and undisputed king of Atlanta’s zoo. The gorilla was born in the wild in Africa, came to the Grant Park Zoo as a baby in 1961 and lived for decades in a cage with only a television for entertainment. In the 1980s, Atlanta’s zoo was known as one of the country’s worst, and it lost its accreditation. But with new leadership and a capital campaign, the facilities improved, and Willie B. — named for Atlanta Mayor William B. Hartsfield — became its symbol of change.
In 1988, the Ford African Rain Forest opened inside the zoo, and Willie B. took his first steps outdoors since infancy. He was well into confirmed bachelorhood and hadn’t had contact with other gorillas, but in 1994, he sired his first daughter — then three more daughters and a son after that.
He died 10 years ago this month after 41 years and a bad heart caught up with him as he battled pneumonia. About 2,500 people attended a memorial service for the gorilla on Feb. 5, 2000, and Zoo Atlanta officials announced plans to scatter his ashes in his native Africa.
They also commissioned a statue by artist Edwin Bogucki, who used hundreds of videos and photos and interviews with Charles Horton, the keeper who cared for Willie for decades, to create a life-size memorial to be kept in the zoo.
But instability in Cameroon meant required zoo officials to find another resting place for Willie B., one that some Atlantans wished for all along: his ashes are at Zoo Atlanta, inside that life-size bronze statue.
Want to go? Zoo Atlanta. 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. $13.99-$18.99, free for kids younger than 2. 800 Cherokee Ave. inside Grant Park, Atlanta. 404-624-9453, www.zooatlanta.org.
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