Willie B. was a western lowland gorilla who delighted visitors to Zoo Atlanta for thirty-nine years from 1961 until his death in 2000. Named for former mayor, William B. Hartsfield, Willie B. arrived in Atlanta as an infant and spent twenty-seven years isolated in an indoor enclosure with a television and a tire swing to keep him company.
Following the construction of an outdoor habitat in 1988, Willie B. moved outside and became the leader of a troop of gorillas, fathering several offspring. Today, a statue commemorating his life is placed near Zoo Atlanta’s gorilla environment, now home to the nation’s largest collection of gorillas.
Zoo Atlanta originated in 1889 when a circus train came to town and fell into financial trouble. A local businessman purchased the animals and donated them to the city, which placed them in Grant Park. In the 1930s, the zoo’s collection doubled when Asa Candler Jr. donated his private menagerie from his estate on Briarcliff Road. Now a public-private partnership, Zoo Atlanta has evolved into one of the top-rated zoos in the world, attracting almost 1 million visitors in 2016.