(WRCB) - The year 2012 marks a significant milestone for the Chattanooga Zoo as it celebrates 75 years of being  ‘the best little Zoo in America." To commemorate 75 years and to say ‘thank you' to the community, the Zoo will be hosting ‘75 Days of Fun' which will begin April 3 and include activities and events in preparation for a 75th Anniversary Grand Celebration set for June 16.  

"The Chattanooga Zoo is pleased to celebrate its 75th year as a landmark education, conservation and rehabilitation institution within the community," said CEO Darde Long.  "In honor of this momentous year, we will be hosting numerous education, entertainment and enrichment opportunities for the local community to thank them for their continued support."

Guests will have the opportunity to go on photo safaris led by a professional photographer, get up close and personal with some of their favorite animals and zookeepers, attend a variety of conservation lecture series and much more.  All activities will be included in the price of admission and guests can check the Chattanooga Zoo's website or Facebook Page for up-to-date information on each day's activity.

As an added bonus, all visitors 75 years of age or older will be allowed into the Zoo for free any time during the year. "We figured if we were celebrating the Zoo's 75th birthday, it is only fair that we celebrate everyone 75 years young," said Long.

While the Zoo is turning 75, old age is also creeping up on some of its inhabitants. Ms. Long noted that they have a handful of species that are living well past their average life span, placing them in a geriatric classification.
The Zoo's Water monitor "Suzie Q," a lizard species with an average life span of 20 years, will turn 23 this year, "Butch" a Red panda with an average life span of 8-10 years, will turn 17 years old, and "Blondie" the Zoo's Albino Boa constrictor will turn 25.

One of the most significant however, is "Jack," one of the Zoo's Spider monkeys. The species has an average life span of 20 years and this year Jack will turn 37 years old.

The Chattanooga Zoo is taking the necessary steps to modify each animal's care as they age. These modifications include food and diet, more frequent blood work, minimizing the use of sedative procedures, modifying their habitats, and a closer observation overall by keeper and veterinary staff.

"The fact that so many of our animals are as old as they are is a tribute and testament the quality of care our wonderful keepers provide," said Long.  "These animals are our family and therefore we treat them much like you would treat a grandmother or grandfather−with respect, compassion and lots of attention and love."

The Chattanooga Zoo Timeline

1937 – Parks Commissioner Bob Cooke establishes the Warner Park Zoo with the construction of a cage for two Rhesus monkeys.

1970s – Conditions begin to deteriorate at the aging facility.  On a national scale, zoos begin to shift towards natural habitats.

1985 – Public disapproval reaches a boiling point.  Citizens demand that the Zoo either be improved or shut down.  Friends of the Zoo is formed with hopes of saving the Zoo and Dardenelle Long is hired as Director.

1993 – A Master Redevelopment Plan begins.   

1998 – The Spider Monkey exhibit is opened, and the Zoo attains accreditation with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

2004 – Himalayan Passage, the largest indoor Red Panda facility in the country, opens in August.

2007 – Work begins on the Zoo's new entrance complex on Holtzclaw Ave.  A new Education Center is built.

2008 – New Zoo entrance is finished complete with a hand-carved endangered animals carousel and Gombe Forest Café.   

2010- Corcovado Jungle exhibit opens and Chattanooga is introduced to Jaguar brothers Phil and Gene.

2012 – The Chattanooga Zoo celebrates its 75th Anniversary.  The new Deserts and Forests of the World exhibit opens.