Chattanooga Zoo: Animal Paradise or Run-Down Menagerie?

Shortly after moving to Chattanooga, I decided to take my three-year-old daughter to the Chattanooga Zoo. Widely advertised all over town, the zoo has been in the area since the 1930s. Long-term locals had several complaints about the zoo, noting that its conditions were so poor during the 1980s and 1990s that the attraction was nearly shut down.

As an animal welfare activist and as a conservationist, I had mixed feelings about visiting a zoo with such a poor reputation. However, when I read online that the Chattanooga Zoo is now accredited with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, I decided to take the plunge. I was neither particularly nor particularly disappointed in my experience.

Cost

The Chattanooga Zoo’s admission price is extremely reasonable. For my roommate, daughter and I, admission was only $20. The zoo offers to apply the cost of admission toward a membership fee. It was only $15 more to get a year-round membership– which provides free admission to me and my daughter. Compared to the Tennessee Aquarium, another animal-oriented attraction in the area, this admission price was quite modest.

Animals

For the most part, the animals exhibited at the Chattanooga Zoo were not particularly impressive or exotic. The zoo was dominated by fairly ordinary animal attractions such as raccoons, macaws, snakes, coatamundi, and peacocks. In this regard, it differed little from a cheap roadside attraction. However, the experience was punctuated with chimpanzees, red pandas, a jaguar, a cougar, and two snow leopards. Although the chimps were elderly and the jaguar looked bored, they were an exciting enough attraction for the money.

Care and Habitats

I had several concerns about the health and safety of captive animals at the Chattanooga Zoo. I hold zoos and aquariums to a very high standard and find even “mild” animal abuse unacceptable. A capybara, kept alone in a relatively small enclosure, concerned me. The chimpanzees’ habitat also seemed small, as did the jaguar’s. However, I was reassured by amount of construction around the zoo site. The Chattanooga Zoo promises to improve these habitats soon, but only time will tell if they come through with their promise.

Conservation Concerns

The Chattanooga Zoo participates in conservation projects, and a snow leopard cub was born at the zoo last winter. It also claims that the organization is facilitating the conservation of jaguars, and will participate in an upcoming breeding program. The zoo’s solitary cougar was confiscated from an irresponsible “pet owner,” not taken from the wild. Although I’d like to see more real-world action from the zoo. I will not continue to support them unless I see direct evidence that they are following though on their claims of future conservation.

Other Attractions

Aside from the animals on display, several other attractions made the Chattanooga Zoo enjoyable. An exotic animal carousel at the zoo, which cost an additional dollar beyond the cost of admission, was fun but unremarkable. The petting zoo was also a treat for my daughter, but wasn’t particularly educational or exciting. The highlight of the trip was the current “Dinosaurs!” exhibit, involving animatronic prehistoric reptiles. This was genuinely impressive, but is only a temporary exhibit.

Overall, I did enjoy my family’s trip to the Chattanooga Zoo, and found that it was worthwhile for the notably low cost. Nevertheless, I don’t consider it to be a particularly remarkable zoo, and I do have concerns about the welfare of the animals kept there. I hope to see improvements at the Chattanooga Zoo in the immediate future.