Knoxville Attraction: Knoxville Zoo

The Knoxville Zoo has been known by many names in its time. It’s been Birthday Park, the Birthday Park Zoo, Knoxville Zoological Park, the Municipal Zoo or just the Knoxville Zoo. Regardless of what you call it, the zoo is home to 900 animals that weekly consume 5,200 pounds of hay, 120 pounds of bananas, 735 pounds of meat and more than a ton of grain and greens, just slightly more than your average teenager.

The Knoxville Zoo opened as the Birthday Park Zoo in 1948 at Chilhowee Park, when an American alligator was left on the premises. Other animals followed, including pigs, lions, monkeys and groundhogs. By 1971 a lack of funding and scrutiny by the Humane Society almost resulted in the zoo’s closing. But local television executive Guy Smith stepped in, taking the job as the zoo’s first director on a $1 a year salary. The zoo eventually flourished and, in 1978, the first two African elephants born in the western hemisphere arrived in Knoxville.

Today the zoo is annually visited by more than 400,000 people. The zoo’s 53 acres are located 3500 Knoxville Zoo Drive on the eastern side of the city, conveniently situated off exit 392A from Interstate 40. The zoo is open 364 days a year, closed only on Christmas.

The park’s hours vary seasonably — visitors will have more time during the summer months and a shorter stay during the rest of the year. Next day admission is free if you enter the zoo after 3 p.m. Expect to pay both for admission and parking. Current ticket prices are $16.95 for adults, and $12.95 for seniors and children ages 2-12; children under two see the park for free. Parking will currently set you back four bucks. Contact the park at 865-637-5331 or visit visit www.knoxville-zoo.org for more information, as prices are subject to change. There are discounts for groups of 20 or more. Memberships are also available. Maps are free at entry.

The zoo has a diverse animal population. Black Bear Falls is an open-air exhibit housing black bears, complete with waterfalls and an inside view of the bear den. Nine chimpanzees make their home at Chimp Ridge, including George, born in 2008, the first chimpanzee birthed at the zoo in 20 years. The zoo has produced 28 Southern white rhino calves, the third highest zoo breeding rate in North America. Knoxville has one of the largest reptile collections in the nation, with more than 80 species and 400 specimens. Knoxville Zoo was the first in the world to successfully breed Papuan pythons. The zoo also features African elephants, red pandas, penguins, meerkats, lions, cheetahs, river otters, gorillas, even butterflies.

The zoo has a themed gift shop, seasonable camel rides, stroller and wheelchair rental, and concessions throughout the park.

In 2005, the zoo opened Kids Cove, an exhibit based on an early 20th century Appalachian farm. Kids Cove features a playground (with swings, a climbing wall and a large sandbox), a water play area, a custom-built carousel and 32 species of animals, including goats, sheep and Guinea Hogs.

The Knoxville Zoo hosts unique events throughout the year. The annual Feast with the Beasts celebration began in 1995. Usually held in August, the party is open to guests age 21 and older. Food and beverages are available for sampling from nearly 40 local restaurants and vendors. Attendees can also listen to live music from local bands and bid on items in a silent auction. “Boo! at the Zoo,” an annual kid-friendly Halloween event, takes place during October. Kids can dress in costume, trick-or-treat, play games, ride the haunted carousel and experience stilt walkers, belly dancers, a magician, puppets and more.

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