Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Day at the Knoxville Zoo!

So, 33 months after we moved into east Tennessee, we had yet to visit the Knoxville Zoo.  This is unusual for us as we really like to view animals and watch them interact with their surroundings.  It isn’t like the zoo doesn’t advertize… We’ve seen plenty of ads as well as stories on TV about the zoo and its various activities.  In any case, we finally took the plunge and drove over to the east side of Knoxville for one more area experience…

The Knoxville Zoo was founded in 1948 with a single caged alligator.  Visitors were asked for penny donations so the alligator could be cared for.  The zoo now encompasses 53 acres, contains over 800 animals and it’s visited by more than 400,000 people each year.  On the rather warm late spring day that we were at the zoo, it felt like most of the 400,000 were there at the same time.  It was a very busy day!

These are African Wild Dogs.  They range in size from 40 to 79 pounds, mostly dependent on their environment and available food.  While there used to be approximately 500,000 African Wild Dogs scattered across 39 African nations, current estimates are that there are between 3,000 and 5,500 of these canids surviving in 14 countries. 

The African Wild Dog is a very successful hunter.  They hunt in packs…running their chosen prey down in a long chase…with an 80% success rate!  Their bite force is the strongest of any mammalian carnivore…they can crunch bone.  These dogs can also run at speeds reaching 40 mph. for 3 miles or more.

Laurie took a photo of this young Chimpanzee sitting alone on the rocks in the Chimpanzee exhibit area.  Chimps are members of the Hominidade Family, as are gorillas, orangutans and humans.  Males can be 5’ 6” tall when standing and they can weigh up to 150 lbs. 

In the wild, Chimpanzees live in groups or communities of between 15 and 150.  It’s estimated that between 170,000 and 300,000 remaining in the wild.  They are listed as endangered.  In many areas of Africa, they are hunted as ‘bushmeat’ or medicinal purposes for human consumption.  They are also very vulnerable to many diseases that affect humans.

Laurie loves horses…and of course Zebra’s evolved from Old World Horses.  These 2 Plains Zebras decided to lay down in the shade near the fence and pose for this photo.  Plains Zebras range over most of Africa south of the Sahara.  They are protected over much of their range due to their value as tourist attractions.

A big male zebra can reach 4’ 8” at the shoulder and they can weigh up to 850 lbs.  Zebras will migrate over 700 miles in search of food and water.  Up to 50% of all Zebra foals die in their first year due to disease, starvation and predation by lions, hyenas and other meat eating animals.

This African Elephant is working at removing hay from the barrel using his trunk.  A big African Elephant can reach 13’ in height at the shoulders and they can weigh over 6.5 tons! (13,300 lbs) They are indeed the world’s largest living terrestrial land animal. 

The Knoxville Zoo really hit the big time as a zoological park back in 1978 when it produced the 1st African Elephant born in captivity in the Western Hemisphere!  She was named “Little Diamond”.  Of all of the exhibits at the Knoxville Zoo, the elephant area seemed to be the most current and attractive…good for both the animals and zoo visitors.

This is an Eastern Black Bear… Around here, they are fairly common.  A couple of years ago, one was caught in a culvert trap about a block from our home. (They used Twinkies and Crispy Cream Donuts to bait the trap) He’d been raiding bird feeders.  He was returned to the Cherokee National Forest or the Smoky Mountain National Park. 

There are twice as many Black Bears around the globe as there are all other species of bears in the world and they are listed as a ‘Least Endangered’ Species.  While Black Bears are not particularly aggressive, it’s a good idea not to come between them and a berry patch or to get too close to a mother bear and her cub.  For short distances, Black Bears can run up to 30 mph…can you?!  The record size for a male black bear was recorded in New Brunswick Canada back in 1972.  He weighed in at about 1,100 lbs. and he was 7’ 9” long!  A large black bear normally wouldn’t exceed 550 lbs. but all bears are very strong.
For the best wild Black Bear viewing in North America, visit Orr Minnesota.  There are 20 + bear feeding stations all around an open viewing platform in a clearing in the woods.  You arrive before the bears amble in from the woods for their dinner and you leave when they’re done.  It was amazing when we saw that many wild bears…being served dinner by humans.  For more information, just go to

The Knoxville Zoo also has camel rides, (in-season @ $5.00), and carousel rides for $2.00.  The Zoo is a non-profit organization and it frequently stages events to raise money.  There is the “Feast with the Beasts”; the Zoofari (an elegant dinner with a silent auction); Boo at the Zoo (Halloween), and; Jungle Love (on Valentine’s Day). 

Note: It costs $22,400 each day to operate the Knoxville Zoo.

This is a Red Panda.  The Knoxville Zoo is well known for its successful breeding of Red Pandas and indeed, the worldwide ‘studbook’ for Red Pandas is maintained by Zoo personnel.  The Zoo has produced approximately 100 Red Pandas, only surpassed by the Rotterdam Zoo in the Netherlands.  Red Pandas are listed as “Vulnerable” with only an estimated 10,000 mature animals existing in the wild. 

These cute little animals are about the size of a housecat, rarely exceeding 14 lbs.  They are only distantly related to Giant Pandas…but rather are more closely akin to Raccoons…although the Red Panda is considered a living fossil…the only animal in its assigned family or genus.  These appealing animals mostly eat bamboo but they will eat meat given the opportunity.  They cannot tolerate temperatures in excess of 77 degrees.

The Knoxville Zoo has several types of tortoises and turtles on display.  Those in the photograph above are Aldabra Giant Tortoises.  They are one of the largest living reptiles, with adult females weighing in at roughly 150 lbs. and males tipping the scales at between 300 and 600 lbs. 

There are about 150,000 of these Tortoises worldwide, with most of them living on the Aldabra Atoll in the Indian Ocean.  The Aldabra Atoll is the second largest atoll in the world at 60 square miles of land surface…and most of the tortoises live on this island.  The island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Its part of the Seychelles but Aldabra is isolated and uninhabited.

I liked this wall of donors…I’m guessing with the different animals shown representing the amount of the donation.

In the early 1970’s a local politician, Guy Lincoln Smith III, offered a pet lion to the struggling zoo.  The catch was that he insisted that the zoo needed a major clean-up first.  He forced the issue and worked to get the job done.  He wrote a book about the experience, entitled “A House for Joshua – The Building of the Knoxville Zoo”.  Joshua was of course, Smith’s pet lion.  The book is still available at

The zoo has a nice display of Southern White or Square Lipped Rhinoceros.  There are only about 17,000 surviving in the wild, mostly in South Africa.  Males are typically 13’ long and average 5,100 lbs., (about 2.5 tons). The largest known Southern White Rhino weighed in at 9,900 lbs. (close to 5 tons!)

Other animals in the Knoxville Zoo include River Otter, Andean Condors, Snakes, Alligators, Red Fox, Bald Eagle, Marmoset, Baboons, Red Wolf, Reticulated Giraffe, Lions, a Tiger, Sandhill Cranes, Waterbuck Gazelle, Wild Boars, Prairie Dogs, Penguin, Bobcats, snakes, a Komodo Dragon and Meercats.

The Zoo is addressing some of the key issues that we noted during our visit.  You may have noted the lack of big cat photos.  The cages were set back so far that you couldn’t really view the animals.  The facilities for the big cats and the baboons were really run down.  The good news is that the Zoo is in the midst of a $4 million renovation project.  The first items under construction are the Lion and Baboon enclosures.   They will be followed by the Tiger enclosure and then a new reptile facility.

While the Knoxville Zoo was interesting and there were some nice exhibits, it didn’t measure up to some of the big city zoos that Laurie and I have visited.  The new improvements will greatly enhance the visitor’s experience, providing an upscale experience from a medium sized operation.  Our biggest complaint was that, because of the crush of visitors, we ended up walking a long way up hill from the overflow parking lot.  Given the hilly nature of the Zoo, my old knees didn’t need the extra strain of climbing/walking as far as it was to the actual zoo entrance.
The Knoxville Zoological Garden is located at 3500 Knoxville Zoo Drive in Knoxville Tennessee.   Phone: 865-637-5331.  Admission is $19.95 for adults and $15.95 for seniors as well as for children between the age of 2 and 12.  Parking is another $5.00.  Considering that a family of 4 would have to pay $76.80 and $5.00 for parking, (plus food and drinks), we were very impressed with the big crowds!  For further information, just go to 
Just click on any photo to enlarge it…
Thanks for joining us on our East Tennessee Safari!
Take Care, Big Daddy Dave


  1. What wonderful pictures, Dave. I, too, love the zoo, but use my grandsons as my excuse for going :-). Have a great day. Blessings...Mary

  2. your pictures are fabulous! sometimes my house feels like that zoo.