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National Zoological Park (United States)

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Title: National Zoological Park (United States)  
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Subject: List of Smithsonian museums, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, Smithsonian Institution, Smithsonian Libraries, List of individual elephants
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

National Zoological Park (United States)

National Zoological Park
Front entrance
Date opened 1889[1]
Location 3001 Connecticut Ave. NW,
Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C., USA
Land area Zoo: 163 acres (66 ha)[2]
SCBI: 3,200-acre (1,300 ha)[3]
Number of animals Zoo: 2,000[2]
SCBI: 30-40 Endangered Species[3]
Number of species 400[2]
Memberships AZA[4]
Major exhibits Amazonia, Asia Trail, Giant Panda Habitat, Great Ape House, Think Tank
Website .edu.sinationalzoo

The National Zoological Park, commonly known as the National Zoo, is one of the oldest zoos in the United States, and as part of the Smithsonian Institution, does not charge admission. Founded in 1889, its mission is to provide leadership in animal care, science, education, sustainability, and visitor experience.[5] The National Zoo has two campuses. The first is a 163-acre (66 ha) urban park located in northwest Washington, D.C. that is 20 minutes from the National Mall by Metro to the Woodley Park station, or downhill walk from the Cleveland Park station.[6] The other campus is the 3,200-acre (1,300 ha) Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI; formerly known as the Conservation and Research Center) in Front Royal, Virginia. On this land there are 180 species of trees, 850 species of woody shrubs and herbaceous plants, and 40 species of grasses. There are also 36 different species of bamboo.[7] The SCBI is a non-public facility devoted to training wildlife professionals in conservation biology and to propagating rare species through natural means and assisted reproduction. The National Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

Altogether, the two facilities contain 1,800 animals of 300 different species.[8] About one-fifth of them are endangered or threatened. Most species are on exhibit at the zoo's Rock Creek Park campus.[9] The best known residents are the giant pandas, but the zoo is also home to birds, great apes, big cats, Asian elephants, insects, amphibians, reptiles, aquatic animals, small mammals and many more. The SCBI facility houses between 30 and 40 endangered species at any given time depending on research needs and recommendations from the zoo and the conservation community.[3] The Zoo was one of the first zoos to establish a scientific research program.[10] The National Zoo, as part of the Smithsonian Institution, receives federal appropriations for operating expenses. A new master plan for the park was introduced in 2008 to upgrade the park's exhibits and layout.

The National Zoo is open every day of the year except December 25 (Christmas Day).


Thel zoo first started as the National Museum's Department of Living Animals in 1886.[11] By an Act of Congress in 1889 for "the advancement of science and the instruction and recreation of the people" the National zoo was created. In 1890 it became a part of the Smithsonian Institution. Three well-known individuals drew up plans for the zoo: Samuel Langley, third Secretary of the Smithsonian; William T. Hornaday, noted conservationist and head of the Smithsonian's vertebrate division; and Frederick Law Olmsted, the premier landscape architect of his day.William Temple Hornaday, was the curator of all 185 animals when the Park was first opened.[12]Together they designed a new zoo to exhibit animals for the public and to serve as a refuge for wildlife, such as bison and beaver, which were rapidly vanishing from North America.[13]

Olmsted Walk, near the zoo's Elephant House

In its first half century, the National Zoo, like most zoos around the world, focused principally on exhibiting one or two representatives of as many exotic species as possible. The number of many species in the wild began to decline drastically, principally because of human activities. Sometimes animals became unexpectedly available. In 1899, the Kansas frontiersman Charles "Buffalo" Jones captured a bighorn sheep for the zoo.[14] The fate of animals and plants became a pressing concern. Many of these species were favorite zoo animals, such as elephants and tigers; hence the staff began to concentrate on the long-term management and conservation of entire species.[13]

The middle and late 1950s were a turning point for the zoo. The zoo hired its first full-time, permanent [13] They also contriblue anywhere from 4 million to 8 million additional dollars to the zoo annually.[16]

In the early 1960s, the zoo turned its attention to breeding and studying threatened and endangered species. Although some zoo animals had been breeding and raising young, no one knew why some species did so successfully and others didn't. In 1965 the zoo created the zoological research division to study the reproduction, behavior, and ecology of zoo species, and to learn how best to meet the needs of the animals.[13]

A gorilla at the National Zoo enjoys a snack.

Later, in 1975, the zoo established the Conservation and Research Center (CRC). In 2010, the complex was renamed the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI); this title is also used as an umbrella term for the scientific endeavors taking place on both campuses. On 3,200 acres (13 km2) of Virginia countryside, rare species, such as Mongolian wild horses, scimitar-horned oryx, maned wolves, cranes, and others live and breed in spacious surroundings. Today, SCBI's efforts emphasize reproductive physiology, analysis of habitat and species relationships, genetics, husbandry and the training of conservation scientists.[13]

Male lion at the National Zoo

Expanding knowledge about the needs of zoo animals and commitment to their well being has changed the look of the National Zoo. Today, the animals live in natural groupings rather than as individuals. Rare and endangered species, such as golden lion tamarins, Sumatran tigers, and sarus cranes, breed and raise their young - a testament to the success of the zoo's conservation and research programs.[13] Today, the Zoo’s research team studies animals both in the wild and at the Zoo. Its research encompasses reproductive biology, conservation biology, biodiversity monitoring, veterinary medicine, nutrition, behavior, ecology, and bird migration.[17]

The National Zoo has developed public education programs to help students, teachers and families explore the intricacies of the animal world. The zoo also designed specialized programs to train wildlife professionals from around the world and to form a network to provide crucial support for international conservation. The National Zoo is at the forefront of the use of web technology and programming to expand its programs to an international virtual audience.[13]

The National Zoo has been the home to giant pandas for more than 30 years. First Hsing Hsing and Ling Ling in 1972, and, since 2000, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian. On July 9, 2005, Mei Xiang gave birth to Tai Shan, who went to China in February 2010. On August 23, 2013 Mei Xiang gave birth to Bao Bao,who still resides at the zoo. Plans for the future include modernizing the zoo's aging facilities and expanding its education, research and conservation efforts in Washington, Virginia and in the wild. A 10-year renewal program has already seen the creation of Asia Trail, a series of habitats for seven Asian species, including sloth bears, red pandas, and clouded leopards. Elephant Trails, scheduled to open in 2012, will provide a new home for the zoo's Asian elephants. Kids' Farm exhibit opened in 2004.[13]

The zoo, which is supported by tax revenues and open to everyone, attracts 2 million visitors per year, according to the Washington Post in 2005.

The National Zoo has a Federal Law Enforcement Agency deployed on its grounds; the National Zoological Park Police, which consists of full-time Law Enforcement Officers. The National Zoological Park Police is an agency that has been recognized by the United States Congress. The NZPP is one of five original police agencies within the District of Columbia with full police powers. The NZPP works very closely with the Metropolitan Police Department, the United States Park Police, Department of State, Capital Police, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Department of Defense. The agency is considered the first line of defense in the event of any crisis.

Dennis W. Kelly was named director of the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, D.C., effective February 15, 2010. As director, Kelly oversees the 163-acre (66 ha) facility in Rock Creek Park and the 3,200-acre (1,300 ha) Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) in Front Royal, Virginia. Kelly, 56, was the president and CEO of Zoo Atlanta in Georgia from June 2003 until February 2010.

Kelly succeeded

Mother and baby gorilla at the National Zoo

Giant Panda Habitat

The zoo's Giant Panda Habitat features two outdoor areas with animal enrichment, as well as an indoor area with a rocky outcrop, a waterfall, and visitor viewing areas. The zoo's pandas, named Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, are at the zoo on loan from the China Wildlife Conservation Association, and will live at the zoo until 2015.[18] They are the focus of a research, conservation, and breeding program that aims to preserve the species. Mei Xiang and Tian Tian successfully had a male cub, named Tai Shan, in 2005. Tai Shan currently lives at the Bifengxia Panda Base in Sichuan, China, taking part in Bifengxia’s breeding program. On September 16, 2012, Mei Xiang gave birth to another cub, but the cub died six days after its birth. On August 23, 2013, Mei Xiang gave birth to two cubs; one, a female named Bao Bao, survived, but the other was a stillborn.[19] The pandas live at the Fujifilm Giant Panda Habitat, a state-of-the-art indoor and outdoor exhibit. It is designed to be similar the pandas' natural habitat of rocky, lush terrain in China[20]

Asia Trail

An Asia-themed group of exhibits (one of which is the Giant Panda Habitat) opened in 2006. Along with Mei Xiang and Tian Tian the giant pandas, the area also displays sloth bears, fishing cats, red pandas, clouded leopards, Oriental small-clawed otters and a Japanese giant salamander.

Elephant Trails

In spring 2008, the National Zoo began construction on Elephant Trails, a new home for its Asian elephants. The first part of the two-part 52 million dollar project opened in September 2010, expanding the zoo's former elephant area with a 5,700-square-foot (530 m2) barn, two new yards (one with a pool), and a quarter-mile walkway through woods,[21] a total of 1.9 acres (0.77 ha) of outdoor space.[22] Elephant Trails: A Campaign to Save Asian Elephants is a comprehensive breeding, education, and scientific research program. It is designed to help scientists care for elephants in zoos and save them in the wild. The zoo's Elephant House closed to the public on September 14, 2009 to let the next phase of Elephant Trails get underway. On warm days, the zoo's four elephants are on view outside during exhibit hours but may occasionally be inside (and out of view). The exhibit was completed in late March 2013 when the Elephant Community Center, an indoor exhibit with many interpretive signs and graphics, opened.[23]

Lemur Island

A moated island that is home to two different species of lemur: four ring-tailed lemurs (two females named Andromeda and Ninnia, and two males named Gelon and Mytro), and two red-fronted lemurs (a male named Red Oak and a female named Flare).

The Small Mammal House

The majority of the zoo's smaller mammal species live in the Small Mammal House. The species on display include three-banded armadillos, black howler monkeys, naked mole rats, golden lion tamarins, red ruffed lemurs, prehensile-tailed porcupines, black and rufous elephant shrews, black-footed ferrets, black-tailed prairie dogs, meerkats, two-toed sloths, a sand cat [24] and several others.

The Great Ape House

Two orangutans crossing over visitors via the "O Line."

The Great Ape House is separated into two enclosures, one houses six orangutans (two males named Kiko and Kyle, and four females named Lucy, Batang, Iris and Bonnie), while the other houses six western lowland gorillas (three males named Baraka, Kojo and Kwame, and three females named Mandara, Kibibi and Kigali). The orangutans are allowed access to the Think Tank (see below) by travelling along the "O-Line", a series of high cables supported by metal towers that enable the orangutans to move between the two buildings as they please.

The Think Tank

The Think Tank is an area designed to educate visitors about how animals think and learn about their surroundings. The Think Tank features several interactive displays that teach visitors how zoologists conduct their studies. The zoo's orangutans (which are sometimes used in keeper demonstrations) are allowed to move from the Great Ape House to the Think Tank whenever they want, and the building includes suitable enclosures for the apes should they choose to stay there. Other animals kept and studied in The Think Tank include a Sulawesi macaque, brown rats, land hermit crabs and a grey-cheeked mangabey.

Gibbon Ridge

An enclosure housing two different species of gibbon: three white-cheeked gibbons (a male named Sydney and two females named Mae and Muneca), and two siamang (a male named Bradley and a female named Ronnie).

The Cheetah Conservation Station

An outdoor exhibit designed to mimic the African savanna and educate visitors about cheetahs and what is being done to preserve them in the wild. The main part of the Cheetah Conservation Station consists of two enclosures separated by a fence. One enclosure houses five cheetahs (four males named Granger, Draco, Gat and Zabini, and a female named Lita), while the other houses two male Grevy's zebras. Other animals on display in the area include a scimitar-horned oryx, dama gazelles, Rüppell's vultures, a maned wolf (a species native to South America rather than Africa), a sitatunga, red river hogs, and until December 2013, when she was euthanized at the very old age of 18 (most do not live beyond 10), a female tammar wallaby named Maji (her species is native to Australia). The wallaby was kept off exhibit until its death.[25]

The American Trail

An exhibit housing North American species. These include California sea lions, grey seals, harbor seals, North American beavers, hooded mergansers, bald eagles, common ravens, brown pelicans, grey wolves and North American river otters. After facing severe threats, the majority of American Trail species have rebounded thanks to conservation efforts. Many of the residents of American Trail have been listed as endangered. All of the animal enclosures on American Trail exhibit plants native to North America. The exhibit also features a cafe called Seal Rock Cafe which offers dishes crafted from local, seasonal, and sustainable ingredients. Menu items include Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) certified shrimp and Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified fish.[26] The American Trail was recently renovated and reopened in late summer 2012.

The Invertebrate Exhibit

This exhibit housed the zoo's collection of invertebrates. Among the species on display were leafcutter ants, zebra longwing butterflies, orange Julia butterflies, honeybees, diving beetles, Madagascan hissing cockroaches, black widow spiders, golden orb spiders, Goliath tarantulas, chambered nautilus, giant Pacific octopus, common cuttlefish, clown mantis shrimp, Pacific hermit crabs, blue crabs, American lobsters and various different species of sea anemones, coral and sea stars. The Invertebrate Exhibit was permanently closed to the public on Sunday, June 22, 2014 due to inadequate funding.[27]


A South America-themed walk-through exhibit housing animal and plant species native to the Amazon River. The animals on display include titi monkeys, two-toed sloths, sunbittern, roseate spoonbills, red-footed tortoises, red-bellied piranhas, rainbow boas, river stingrays and various species of poison dart frog and catfish.

Great Cats

A tiger swimming

Great Cats is separated into two enclosures, one houses a pride of African lions, and the other the zoo's Sumatran tigers.

One of the zoo's tigers, Soyono was euthanized in November 2012. She was 19 years old, which is close to the limits of her life span. The tiger looked to be suffering from spondylosis, a degenerative spinal disorder, which afflicts big cats as they get older.[28]

On Friday, January 24, 2014, the zoo's 10-year-old female lion Nababiep gave birth to three cubs- two surviving- in an eight-hour period. The cubs, who are doing well, are the first lion cub litter at the zoo in four years, the third for Nababiep, and the fourth for the 8-year-old father, Luke. The zoo has a clip from the LionCam showing the so-far healthy living cubs. This follows the birth of two rare Sumatran tiger cubs to mother Damai on Monday, August 5, 2013; there is also an online camera for the tigers.[29]

The Reptile Discovery Center

The zoo's reptile and amphibian house houses seventy species of reptiles and amphibians. These include Gila monsters, green iguanas, green anacondas, Komodo dragons, veiled chameleons, leopard geckos, Oriental fire-bellied toads, Aldabra tortoises, alligator snapping turtles, White's tree frogs, king cobras, boa constrictors, Burmese pythons, gharials and Cuban crocodiles.

The Bird House

An indoor enclosure housing the majority of the zoo's bird species. The main building houses brown kiwi, cattle egrets, burrowing owls, pygmy falcons, lilac-breasted rollers and several other birds. There is also a jungle-themed indoor flight room that allows the birds to fly freely, and houses green-winged macaws, Nicobar pigeons, eclectus parrots, sunbittern, Bali myna and several others. Exhibits in and around the Bird House include "Crane Line" (home to Stanley, whooping and wattled cranes), a large, outdoor flight cage housing Mandarin ducks, wood ducks, Indian peafowl, double-crested cormorants, hooded mergansers and several others, the "South American Run" (which includes large South American birds such as king vultures, roseate spoonbills and scarlet ibis), and outdoor exhibits for greater rhea, spectacled owls, barred owls, flamingos, blue-billed curassow, double-wattled cassowary and many others.

The Kid's Farm

An area aimed primarily at children and housing domesticated livestock. The Kid's Farm also features a "Pizza Garden," which grows traditional pizza ingredients. Animals kept in the Kid's Farm include alpacas, Ossabaw Island hogs, miniature Mediterranean donkeys. Hereford and Holstein cows, and Nigerian dwarf, Anglo-Nubian and San Clemente Island goats.

Other animals

Other animals in the zoo's collection include: giant anteaters, spectacled bears, and Przewalski's horses.

Bison Exhibit

The zoo has plans for an American Bison Exhibit. They are currently running a fundraiser to bring bison to the zoo, because bison were the national zoo's first animals, and they want them for the 125th anniversary of the opening of The National Zoo.

Notable animals

Smokey Bear

Smokey Bear, symbol of wildfire prevention
Smokey Bear playing in his pool, sometime in the 1950s.

One of the most famous animals to have spent much of his life at the zoo was Smokey Bear, the "living symbol" of the cartoon icon created as part of a campaign to prevent forest fires. A black bear cub rescued from a fire, he was part of the zoo from 1950 until his death in 1976. During his time at the zoo, he had millions of visitors and so much personal mail addressed to him—up to 13,000 letters a week—that the U.S. Post Office designated a special zip code for correspondence addressed to him.[30] During his time at the zoo, he was "married" to Goldie Bear, with the hope that one of his offspring would continue to hold the title of Smokey Bear. When the pair produced no offspring, an orphaned bear cub was added to their cage. It was named "Little Smokey," with the announcement that the bear couple had "adopted" the new cub. In 1975, an official ceremony was held to recognize the retirement of Smokey Bear and the new title of "Smokey Bear II" for Little Smokey.[30] Upon the death of the original Smokey Bear, The Washington Post printed an obituary, recognizing him as a "New Mexico native" who had resided in Washington, D.C., for many years, working for the government.[31]

Giant pandas

Tai Shan at the National Zoo.

Coming off the heels of President Richard Nixon's historic 1972 trip to China, the Chinese government donated two giant pandas, Ling-Ling (female) and Hsing-Hsing (male), to the official United States delegation. First Lady Pat Nixon donated the pandas to the zoo, where she welcomed them in an April 1972 ceremony. The first pandas in America, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing were among the most popular animals at the zoo.[32] Ling-Ling died in 1992 and Hsing-Hsing in 1999. Although Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing had five cubs between 1983 and 1989, all died as infants.[33]

A new pair of pandas, female Mei Xiang ("Beautiful Fragrance") and male Tian Tian ("More and More"), arrived on loan from the Chinese government in late 2000.[34] The zoo pays an estimated 10 million dollars for the 10-year loan. On July 9, 2005, a male panda cub was born at the zoo; it was the first surviving panda cub birth in the zoo's history, and it was the product of artificial insemination done by the zoo's reproductive research team. The cub was named Tai Shan ("Peaceful Mountain") on October 17, 100 days after his birth; the panda went without a name for its first hundred days, in observance of a Chinese custom. Tai Shan is property of the Chinese government and was scheduled to be sent to China after his second birthday, although that deadline was extended in 2007 by two years. Tai Shan left Washington, D.C., on February 4, 2010, and was taken to the Ya’an Bifengxia Panda Base, part of the Wolong nature reserve’s panda conservation center. On September 16, 2012, Mei Xiang gave birth to another giant panda cub, believed by zoo officials to have been a female, but it died after about a week (initial results from a necropsy- animal autopsy- revealed the abnormal presence of fluid in the abdomen, and also, discoloration of the liver, or hepatic, tissue, of as yet unknown etiology; full, definitive results will likely be available in about two weeks; the cub had managed to nurse before death because milk was found in its system). Zoo officials say that, while upsetting, they (and, by extension, the public) can hope to learn more about giant panda breeding, reproduction, and health as a result, and will work closely and cooperatively with their Chinese colleagues during the inquiry.[35]

In January 2011, Dennis Kelly, director of the National Zoo, and Zang Chunlin, secretary general of the China Wildlife Conservation Association, signed a new Giant Panda Cooperative Research and Breeding Agreement, extending the zoo’s giant panda program for five more years, further cementing the two countries’ commitment to the conservation of the species. The new agreement, effective through December 5, 2015, stipulates that the zoo will conduct research in the areas of breeding and cub behavior.

In the summer of 2013, Mei Xiang gave birth to a live female panda cub (Tian Tian is the father; a second cub was stillborn), named Bao Bao ("treasure" or "precious" in English) on the 100th day of her existence after a naming contest (in accord with Chinese tradition), who is still living and, as of January 18, 2014, on public exhibit and drawing enormous in-person crowds (causing skyrocketing zoo attendance) and on-line views via the PandaCam. There will be an event on Saturday, February 1, 2014 for 30 "Instagrammers" (those who use InstaMeet) to meet her.[36]

Special programs and events

In partnership with Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ), a non-profit organization, the zoo holds annual fund raisers (ZooFari, Guppy Gala, and Boo at the Zoo) and free events (Sunset Serenades, Fiesta Musical). Proceeds support animal care, conservation science, education and sustainability at the National Zoo.[37][38]

  • Woo at the Zoo - A Valentine's Day talk by some of the zoo's animal experts discussing the fascinating, and often quirky, world of animal dating, mating, and reproductive habits. All proceeds benefit the zoo's animal care program.
  • Earth Day: Party for the Planet - Celebrating Earth Day at the National Zoo. Guests can find out about simple daily actions they can take to enjoy a more environmentally friendly lifestyle.
  • Easter Monday - Easter Monday has been a Washington-area multicultural tradition for many years. There is a variety of family activities, entertainment and special opportunities to learn more about the animals. Admission is free, and this event traditionally welcomes thousands of area families. The celebration began in response to the inability of African Americans to participate in the annual Easter Egg Roll held at the White House, until the Dwight Eisenhower presidency.
  • Guppy Gala - This annual family-friendly event offers guests animal encounters, food and a variety of activities. This event is ticketed and open to FONZ Members only. All proceeds benefit the zoo's animal care program.
  • Zoofari - A casual evening of gourmet foods, fine wines, entertainment and dancing under the stars. Each year, thousands of attendees enjoy delicacies prepared by master chefs from 100 of the D.C. area's finest restaurants. All proceeds benefit the zoo's animal care program.
  • Snore and Roar - A FONZ program that allows individuals and families to spend the night at the zoo, in sleeping bags inside of tents. A late-night flashlight tour of the zoo and a two-hour exploration of an animal house or exhibit area led by a zoo keeper are part of the experience. Snore and Roar dates are offered between June and September each year.
  • Brew at the Zoo - Guests can sample beer from a variety of microbreweries at the zoo. All proceeds benefit the zoo's animal care program.
  • Fiesta Musical - FONZ celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month with an annual fiesta at the National Zoo. Animal demonstrations, Hispanic and Latino music, costumed dancers, traditional crafts and Latin American foods are offered.
  • Grapes with the Apes - Visitors toast to wildlife conservation and learn about great apes at the zoo's wine tasting event. All proceeds benefit the zoo's animal care program.
  • Rock-N-Roar - An event featuring live music, food and drink, and viewings of lion and tiger enrichment.
  • Autumn Conservation Festival at Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) - Visitors talk with scientists one on one and learn about their research that spans the globe. Scientists are also on hand to help visitors explore the tools and technology they use to understand animals and their environments. Guests can get behind-the-scenes looks at some of the SCBI's endangered animals.
  • Boo at the Zoo - Families with children ages two to 12 trick-or-treat in a safe environment and receive special treats from more than 40 treat stations. There are animal encounters, keeper talks and festive decorations. All proceeds benefit the zoo's animal care program.
  • Zoolights - The National Zoo's annual winter celebration. Guests can walk through the zoo when it is covered with thousands of sparkling environmentally-friendly lights and animated exhibits, attend special keeper talks and enjoy live entertainment.

Friends of the National Zoo

Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ), the zoo's membership program, is the partner of the National Zoological Park that has been providing support to wildlife conservation programs at the zoo and around the world since 1958. FONZ members receive free parking, discounts at the zoo's stores and restaurants, and Smithsonian Zoogoer, an informative magazine filled with the latest zoo news, research and photos.[39][40]

FONZ's 40,000 members include about 20,000 families, largely in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, and volunteers number more than 1,000 individuals. FONZ provides guest services, development support, education and outreach programs, concessions management, and financial support for research and conservation. FONZ also offers a summer day-camp based out of the Rock Creek Park facility and a residential nature camp based out of SCBI in Front Royal.[39]

Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

The Smithsonian established a Conservation Biology Institute in 2010 to serve as an umbrella for its global effort to conserve species and train future generations of conservationists. Headquartered in Front Royal, Virginia, the facility was previously known as the National Zoo's Conservation and Research Center.[41]

The SCBI facilitates and promotes research programs based at Front Royal, at the National Zoo in Washington and at field-research and training sites around the world. Its efforts support one of the four main goals of the Smithsonian's new strategic plan, which advances "understanding and sustaining a biodiverse planet."[41]

Conservation biology is a field of science based on the premise that the conservation of biological diversity is important and benefits current and future human societies.[41]

The Institute consists of six centers:[41]

  • Conservation Ecology Center: The CEC focuses on recovering and sustaining at-risk wildlife species and their supporting ecosystems in key marine and terrestrial regions throughout the globe.
  • Migratory Bird Center: The Migratory Bird Center studies Neotropical songbirds and wetland birds, the role of disease in bird population declines, and the environmental challenges facing urban and suburban birds. They also train professionals in environmental coffee certification throughout Latin America.
  • Center for Species Survival: The CSS scientists research issues in reproductive physiology, endocrinology, cryobiology, embryo biology, animal behavior, wildlife toxicology and assisted reproduction. They strive to create knowledge that ensures self-sustaining populations in zoos and in the wild.
  • Center for Conservation and Evolutionary Genetics: Scientists at the CCEG work to understand and conserve biodiversity through genetic research. They specialize in the genetic management of wild and captive animal populations, non-invasive and ancient DNA analyses, systematics, disease diagnosis and dynamics, genetic services to the zoo community, and application of genetic methods to animal behavior and ecology.
  • Center for Conservation Education and Sustainability: Scientists at the CBES protect the planet's biodiversity by teaching conservation principles and practices. They work to find ways to help scientists, managers, companies and industries become more environmentally responsible. The CBES recruits, educates and intellectually equips the next generation of conservation professionals.
  • Center for Wildlife Health and Husbandry Sciences: The National Zoo is devoted to being a leader in animal care. Taking care of animals is a complex, demanding, multifaceted endeavor. The Center for Animal Health and Husbandry Science provides for the mental and physical well-being of every animal at the zoo.


In 2009, the zoo was operating under provisional accreditation due to reports of inadequate animal care resulting in animal deaths. The director, Lucy Spelman, resigned at the end of 2009. In January 2003, red pandas died after eating rat poison that had been buried in their yard by a pest control contractor.[42] The incident led the city of Washington to seek to fine the zoo over its claim of federally granted immunity. In July 2003, a predator managed to enter an exhibit and kill a bald eagle.[43] Zoo officials later stated that the animal was likely killed by a red fox.[44] In 2005, a three-year-old Sulawesi macaque named Ripley was killed in the Think Tank when two keepers closed a hydraulic door without realizing the monkey was in the doorway. It was the third death that month at the National Zoo.[45] The insider source of most of the deaths and the interpretation on how they happened was a former zoo pathologist, Dr. Don Nichols. As a veterinarian, Dr. Spelman had treated several of the animals that died and were featured in the Washington Post article that was based on Dr. Nichols' insider information and his interpretation of circumstances. Although Dr. Nichols was perceived as a disgruntled former employee, his claims were taken very seriously. Errors in care, management and communications were found after a panel conducted an external investigation, including instances where veterinarians significantly altered legal medical records weeks and even years after events occurred.

The zoo's head veterinarian at the time, Dr. Suzan Murray, was accused of altering medical records to make them sound more benign than what actually transpired.[46] Murray responded that the software used "was not designed as a legal document, but rather as a user-friendly way of maintaining and sharing important information".[47] The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) specifically states "Without the express permission of the practice owner, it is unethical for a veterinarian to remove, copy, or use the medical records or any part of any record."[48]

In January 2005, the National Academy of Sciences released its final report on a two-year investigation into animal care and management at the National Zoo. The committee, consisting of external veterinarians and scientists, evaluated 74% of all large mammal deaths that occurred at the National Zoo from 1999 to 2003. They concluded that "in a majority of cases, the animal received appropriate care throughout its lifetime. In particular, the committee’s evaluation of randomly sampled megavertebrate deaths at the Rock Creek Park facility revealed few questions about the appropriateness of these animals’ care, suggesting that the publicized animal deaths were not indicative of a wider, undiscovered problem with animal care at the Rock Creek Park facility."[49]

The problems at the zoo, which culminated with Dr. Spelman's resignation, included facilities and budget shortcomings, although the animal care problems were prominently highlighted. Dr. Suzan Murray continues to serve as the zoo's head veterinarian. One other veterinarian featured prominently in the inadequate care of animals at the zoo also remains on staff, but the zoo has added a new head pathologist and has added other veterinarians.[50]

In January 2006, the National Zoo euthanized an Asian elephant named "Toni" after a long time suffering from arthritis and poor body condition. Animal rights groups, specifically In Defense of Animals or IDA, leveled the accusation that inadequate care over her lifespan in captivity led to the conditions that ultimately led to her death. In December 2006, a clouded leopard escaped from its new exhibit at the Asia Trails due to weak fencing used to confine it.[51]

See also

  • Perry Lions – the lions that guard the entrance to the zoo


  1. ^ "Proposed Location for a Zoological Park Along Rock Creek". Ghosts of D.C. April 12, 2012. Retrieved May 25, 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c "About Us". National Zoological Park. Retrieved May 25, 2012. 
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