Talking with the animals at Zoo Knoxville.

Having a little time one day over the winter break, Anna Grace and I decided to go to the zoo. I had put aside this set of snaps and came upon them recently, remembering how very much we enjoyed our visit. Knoxville’s zoo is the kind that we like, unencumbered by technology and hands-on displays, and with naturalistic outdoor habitats and opportunities to get up close and personal with the creatures. It reminded us of the Belgrade Zoo, another favorite.

Zoo Knoxville can’t claim title to “The World’s Oldest” (that would be Tiergarten Schönbrunn in Vienna) or a “Top Ten Zoo” spot or anything like that, but it is notable for having bred the first two African Elephants born in the Western Hemisphere, a heartwarming story in and of itself.

“Diamond,” a bit of an unruly-circus elephant, was given to the Knoxville Zoo in 1963 because no one else wanted him. An 8 ton unruly beast can be hard to handle, I get that. Three years later the very mean Knoxville Mayor wanted to get rid of Diamond because his care was becoming too expensive, but public outcry spared the pachyderm.

In 1975, “Toto,” a female elephant with a terrible name, and “Sapphire”  were introduced to Diamond. In early spring 1978 “Little Diamond” (another terrible name!) was born to Toto, and “Hilary” (what is with the awful names!) was born to Sapphire, becoming the first two African elephants born in the Western Hemisphere.

Almost thirty years later an African Elephant Preserve opened, providing a naturalistic home for the Zoo’s three residents, all of whom are descended from Diamond.

But there is more. Zoo Knoxville (a name change from Knoxville Zoo) has bred more endangered red pandas than any zoo worldwide and is a global leader in breeding endangered tortoises.

Speaking of the red pandas, you know how much we wanted to take one home with us.

At first we were all, “Typical tiger. Sleeping off its breakfast.”

But, no. No zoom or telephoto needed! What an amazing cat.

The American Black Bear is the resident of honor, of course. Haven’t yet seen one in the Smoky Mountains, but I remain ever hopeful.

The Baboons were especially playful. These are Hamadryas, Old World baboons originating from the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

We read that one could feed the giraffes which understandably excited us. Alas, that sport is only an option in summer.  The camel seemed to pose for our cameras. In fact, all of the animals appeared “happy” to see us, perhaps because it was a quiet winter day, in contrast to warmer days with screaming little children running around? Whatever their reason, we loved the attention!

Dolly and Polly are the white rhinos; they are so sweet. It was awesome to be so close, too! (Polly has the pointed forehead tusk.)

My, what big ears you have. 

Told you the animals appeared “happy” to see us!