Zoo Atlanta CEO and president Raymond B. King took a moment to brag on his new reptile house at a "state of the zoo" breakfast Wednesday morning, describing the glass-domed building as a worthy attraction, all on its own.
"I enjoyed it before the animals even got there," said King, during a report on the zoo's growing attendance and future plans. King added that "as someone who is scared to death of snakes," he was happy to visit the Scaly Slimy palace before the snakes did.
In his report on the zoo's bill of health, given to an audience of volunteers, media, elected officials and friends of the zoo, King had plenty of good news.
Attendance has increased by 35 percent since 2010, he said, and the zoo expects the new Scaly Slimy Spectacular to push it over the million mark. Plans for a new event facility in the old Cyclorama building and an expanded African savanna have triggered robust fund-raising, including a $20 million matching grant from the Woodruff Foundation.
King described other more humble changes: a new water filtration system for the otters and flamingos (you can't see it, he said, but the nose knows it's there); professional development programs for zoo employees; wi-fi access throughout the park; new digital signage coming on board; a city plan to build a new parking facility on the eastern end of the zoo.
He also mentioned a crowdfunding effort to bring a bald eagle to the zoo. In all, King described the current period in the zoo's history as the most dynamic since the zoo was privatized in the 1980s, and was transformed from one of the nation's worst zoos to one of its best.
He compared the new airy reptile and amphibian exhibit to the dramatic change in the gorilla habitat when the Ford African Rain Forest opened in 1989 and the zoo's most famous citizen, Willie B., stepped outside for the first time, after 27 years in solitary confinement.
"With (the new reptile house) we can say goodbye to the last of the outdated exhibits at Zoo Atlanta," said King, drawing applause. "But I can tell you we are not letting them step outside the building."