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The Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Updated on May 10, 2019
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Clock tower at a National Zoo entrance, circa 2005.A dinosaur's footprint, July 1, 2007.  At the Smithsonian's National Zoo there are many references to dinosaurs.A  bronze cast of a skull of a tyrannosaurus, July 1, 2007. A tyrannosaurus footprint and a bronze cast of a tyrannosaurus skull at the Big Cats exhibit, March 2019Posing with Uncle Beasley.  This triceratops model was moved from the National Mall to the National Zoo.  July 1, 2007Uncle Beasley at the National Zoo, March 2019.This carousel use to be on the National Mall but is now at the Smithsonian National Zoo.  March 2019.Inside the Learning Center, March 2019A pair of skunks at the small mammal exhibit, March 2019.A nautilus at the now closed invertibrates exhibit, July 2008a komodo dragon.A komodo dragon.A double hump camel.One of the many snakes at the reptile house.A gharial at the reptile house, March 2019.One of the many reptiles in the Smithsonian's collection, March 2019.
Clock tower at a National Zoo entrance, circa 2005.
Clock tower at a National Zoo entrance, circa 2005. | Source
A dinosaur's footprint, July 1, 2007.  At the Smithsonian's National Zoo there are many references to dinosaurs.
A dinosaur's footprint, July 1, 2007. At the Smithsonian's National Zoo there are many references to dinosaurs. | Source
A  bronze cast of a skull of a tyrannosaurus, July 1, 2007.
A bronze cast of a skull of a tyrannosaurus, July 1, 2007. | Source
A tyrannosaurus footprint and a bronze cast of a tyrannosaurus skull at the Big Cats exhibit, March 2019
A tyrannosaurus footprint and a bronze cast of a tyrannosaurus skull at the Big Cats exhibit, March 2019 | Source
Posing with Uncle Beasley.  This triceratops model was moved from the National Mall to the National Zoo.  July 1, 2007
Posing with Uncle Beasley. This triceratops model was moved from the National Mall to the National Zoo. July 1, 2007 | Source
Uncle Beasley at the National Zoo, March 2019.
Uncle Beasley at the National Zoo, March 2019. | Source
This carousel use to be on the National Mall but is now at the Smithsonian National Zoo.  March 2019.
This carousel use to be on the National Mall but is now at the Smithsonian National Zoo. March 2019. | Source
Inside the Learning Center, March 2019
Inside the Learning Center, March 2019 | Source
A pair of skunks at the small mammal exhibit, March 2019.
A pair of skunks at the small mammal exhibit, March 2019. | Source
A nautilus at the now closed invertibrates exhibit, July 2008
A nautilus at the now closed invertibrates exhibit, July 2008 | Source
a komodo dragon.
a komodo dragon. | Source
A komodo dragon.
A komodo dragon. | Source
A double hump camel.
A double hump camel. | Source
One of the many snakes at the reptile house.
One of the many snakes at the reptile house. | Source
A gharial at the reptile house, March 2019.
A gharial at the reptile house, March 2019. | Source
One of the many reptiles in the Smithsonian's collection, March 2019.
One of the many reptiles in the Smithsonian's collection, March 2019. | Source

The Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute

The Smithsonian’s Zoo in Washington, DC has 1,800 animals representing 300 species in 13 exhibits. The zoo spans 163 acres (66 hectares). The zoo opened in 1891. The zoo has grown from housing 15 North American species to animals from all around the world.[i] It has large open areas for most of its large animals. This makes it good for the animals and good for viewing. The zoo is within walking distance of the Woodley Park and Cleveland Park Metro Rail stops. The walk from the Woodley Park/Adams Morgan stop is uphill and flat from the Cleveland Park stop. These stops are on the Red Line.[ii] The zoo is free. There are parking lots within the zoo. The lots charge a flat rate of $25.[iii] My first visit to the Smithsonian’s Zoo was in September 1982. This article is largely based on my personal experience.


[i] National Zoo History, https://nationalzoo.si.edu/about/history, last accessed 3/24/19.

[ii] The Washington DC Metro Rail system uses lines referred to by color.

[iii] This means the rate is the same regardless of how long the car is parked in the lot. The cars must leave the lot when the zo closes for the evening.

The Logistics

The District is automobile hostile. There are stop light and speed cameras in many parts of the city. Road signs can be confusing. Some roads are off limits on certain days and times. Be cautious and obey all traffic and parking laws. Parking outside the zoo can be difficult to impossible. During the summer the zoo’s parking lots fill up quickly. I found the earlier I arrived at the zoo the easier it was to find an open parking lot. I’ve only been there once since they instituted the $25 flat rate. This was in March 2019 so I don’t know if the flat rate deters people from parking in the lots. Arriving early at a tourist spot in the District is your best chance of finding a parking spot reasonably close to your destination.

The zoo has strollers and wheelchairs available on a first come, first serve basis. Manual wheelchairs are free. Electronic wheelchairs are $25. There is also a shuttle service to parking lots.[i] The zoo is on an incline so roughly half your visit will probably be uphill.


[i] National Zoo Accessibility, https://nationalzoo.si.edu/visit/accessibility, last accessed 3/24/19.

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A panda March 2019A Panda at the National Zoo, July 2008.A panda indooors at the National Zoo, July 2008.
A panda March 2019
A panda March 2019 | Source
A Panda at the National Zoo, July 2008.
A Panda at the National Zoo, July 2008. | Source
A panda indooors at the National Zoo, July 2008.
A panda indooors at the National Zoo, July 2008. | Source

The Pandas

When President Nixon and First Lady Patricia Nixon went to Beijing in 1972 the Peoples Republic of China gave the United States of America two giant pandas. The female was named Ling-Ling and the male was named Hsing-Hsing. The United States gave China a pair of muskoxen. These giant pandas were the most popular animals in the National Zoo.

A rite of spring in the Washington, DC metro area is speculating if the female panda is pregnant. Throughout Ling-Ling’s life the zoo attempted to produce offspring. Ling-Ling produced 5 cubs but none survived.[i] Ling-Ling died in 1992 and Hsing-Hsing was euthanized in 1999.

In 2000 the National Zoo loaned two giant pandas, Mie Xiang and Tian Tian, from China for 10 years for $10 million. The zoo continued its breeding efforts on Mei Xiang. On July 9, 2005 Mei Xiang gave birth to Tai Shan. Tan Shan was sent to the Wolong Nature Reserve in China on February 4, 2010. Mei Xiang gave birth to Bao Bao on August 23, 2013. Mia Xiang gave birth to Bei Bei on August 22, 2015. Bao Bao was sent to China in 2017.

The panda habitat was originally an inside enclosure with an outside yard. Now the panda enclosure is a sprawling area where visitors can see the pandas. There are areas in the enclosure that are out of sight of the visitors.

The panda exhibit is in a section of the zoo named the Asian Trail. The other Asian animals along the trail include red pandas, which are no relation to the pandas.


[i] National Zoo, https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/brief-history-giant-pandas-zoo, last accessed 3/29/19.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
A lion strikes a pose, March 2019.A tiger in the grass.A young lionA lioness and her cubs.Lion cubsThe white tiger waiting for meal time.The white tigerRear view of white tiger.A tiger roaming its exhibit, March 2019.A tiger, March 2019.
A lion strikes a pose, March 2019.
A lion strikes a pose, March 2019. | Source
A tiger in the grass.
A tiger in the grass. | Source
A young lion
A young lion | Source
A lioness and her cubs.
A lioness and her cubs. | Source
Lion cubs
Lion cubs | Source
The white tiger waiting for meal time.
The white tiger waiting for meal time. | Source
The white tiger
The white tiger | Source
Rear view of white tiger.
Rear view of white tiger. | Source
A tiger roaming its exhibit, March 2019.
A tiger roaming its exhibit, March 2019. | Source
A tiger, March 2019.
A tiger, March 2019. | Source

The Great Cats

The lions and tigers are in a large circular enclosure. Barriers within the enclosure keep the lions and tigers separate. This gives these large cats ample room to roam. There are alcoves that overlook the enclosures.

The zoo used to have a white tiger. While the white tiger was alive there was a plaque at its enclosure explaining it would be the last white tiger at the zoo. The breeding required to get a white tiger, as with many other specialized breeding, results in passing on genetic defects.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
An elephant in the Elephant Trail, March 2019.The Elephant Trail, March 2019.The elephant exhibit, 1996.The elephant exhibit before renovation.The elephant exhibit before renovation.An elephant A rhinocerous at its outdoor enclosure, before renovation.A giraffe at its outdoor enclosure before renovation.Elephants at the outdoor enclosure before renovation.
An elephant in the Elephant Trail, March 2019.
An elephant in the Elephant Trail, March 2019. | Source
The Elephant Trail, March 2019.
The Elephant Trail, March 2019. | Source
The elephant exhibit, 1996.
The elephant exhibit, 1996. | Source
The elephant exhibit before renovation.
The elephant exhibit before renovation. | Source
The elephant exhibit before renovation.
The elephant exhibit before renovation. | Source
An elephant
An elephant | Source
A rhinocerous at its outdoor enclosure, before renovation.
A rhinocerous at its outdoor enclosure, before renovation. | Source
A giraffe at its outdoor enclosure before renovation.
A giraffe at its outdoor enclosure before renovation. | Source
Elephants at the outdoor enclosure before renovation.
Elephants at the outdoor enclosure before renovation. | Source

The Elephant Trail

The Elephant Exhibit recently underwent an expansion. The exhibit is large enough to house as many as 10 elephants. The exhibit has one male and six female elephants.[i] The viewers have an area for a ground level view and an area for an overhead view.

The Elephant trail apparently squeezed out the giraffes, rhinoceroses, and hippopotamuses which use to share the elephant house and surrounding grounds.


[i] National Zoo, https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/exhibits/elephant-trails, last accessed 4/6/19.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
A bird at an indoor enclosure shared with guests, July 2008.A waterfoul July 2008A bird indoors, July 2008An owl at the bird exhibit, July 2008A closeup of a bird, July 2008A large flightless bird at an outdoor exhibit, July 2008.A bird posing for the camera, July 2008.Flamingos at an outdooer exhibit, July 2008Flamingos at an outdoor exhibit, July 2008A large flightless bird, July 2008flamingosWaterfoul.Waterfoul.
A bird at an indoor enclosure shared with guests, July 2008.
A bird at an indoor enclosure shared with guests, July 2008. | Source
A waterfoul July 2008
A waterfoul July 2008 | Source
A bird indoors, July 2008
A bird indoors, July 2008 | Source
An owl at the bird exhibit, July 2008
An owl at the bird exhibit, July 2008 | Source
A closeup of a bird, July 2008
A closeup of a bird, July 2008 | Source
A large flightless bird at an outdoor exhibit, July 2008.
A large flightless bird at an outdoor exhibit, July 2008. | Source
A bird posing for the camera, July 2008.
A bird posing for the camera, July 2008. | Source
Flamingos at an outdooer exhibit, July 2008
Flamingos at an outdooer exhibit, July 2008 | Source
Flamingos at an outdoor exhibit, July 2008
Flamingos at an outdoor exhibit, July 2008 | Source
A large flightless bird, July 2008
A large flightless bird, July 2008 | Source
flamingos
flamingos | Source
Waterfoul.
Waterfoul. | Source
Waterfoul.
Waterfoul. | Source

The Birds

The Bird Exhibit is closed as it is undergoing transformation. The exhibit Experience Migration is scheduled to open by 2021. The main bird house was completed in 1928.[i] Before the transformation the bird exhibit had an outside area with birds that are found in wetlands. Outside the main bird house there were enclosures for large flightless birds. The museum also had a large collection of flamingos in this outside area. Inside the house there were caged areas for some species of birds. There was a dark room for the kiwi exhibit. In the center of the building there was an enclosed area populated with birds and trees where visitors could walk along pathways. One pathway led to an open-air enclosure where visitors could walk among the birds, including peacocks.


[i] National Zoo, https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/exhibits/experience-migration, last accessed 4/6/2019.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
An orangatang on the O-Line, July 2008.An orangatang on the O-line, July 2008.An orangatang on the O-line, July 2008An orangatang on the O-line, July 2008The Great Ape outdoor enclosure.A gorillaA "silver back" gorillaA closeup of a gorilla at the outdoor enclosure.
An orangatang on the O-Line, July 2008.
An orangatang on the O-Line, July 2008. | Source
An orangatang on the O-line, July 2008.
An orangatang on the O-line, July 2008. | Source
An orangatang on the O-line, July 2008
An orangatang on the O-line, July 2008 | Source
An orangatang on the O-line, July 2008
An orangatang on the O-line, July 2008 | Source
The Great Ape outdoor enclosure.
The Great Ape outdoor enclosure. | Source
A gorilla
A gorilla | Source
A "silver back" gorilla
A "silver back" gorilla | Source
A closeup of a gorilla at the outdoor enclosure.
A closeup of a gorilla at the outdoor enclosure. | Source

The Primates

This exhibit includes a learning center, an outdoor exhibit, and a great ape house. There is an outdoor gorilla enclosure behind the great ape house. The zoo keepers spread the food out for the gorillas. This gives the gorillas some exercise. The smell inside the great ape house is difficult to tolerate. The learning center is an excellent place to learn about apes and animals in general. There is a rope high above the exhibit, dubbed the O-Line. Orangutans can use this rope to travel from the learning center to the great ape house. There is an outdoor enclosure for lemurs named Lemur Island.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Seals at the North American exhibitA bear at the North American exhibit, March 2019.A bear at the Northd American exhibit, March 2019.
Seals at the North American exhibit
Seals at the North American exhibit | Source
A bear at the North American exhibit, March 2019.
A bear at the North American exhibit, March 2019. | Source
A bear at the Northd American exhibit, March 2019.
A bear at the Northd American exhibit, March 2019. | Source

The American Trail

This section has animals native to North America. This exhibit includes a male and a female bald eagle[i]. This exhibit includes seals and sea lions. The zoo gives seal and sea lion demonstrations. There are above and below surface views of their tanks. The trail also includes North American river otters[ii].


[i] The bald eagle is the national animal of the United States of America.

[ii] Also called Canadian otters.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The large tank at the Amizonia exhibit, July 2008.A bird at the Amazonia exhibit, July 2008.A small tank at the research section of Amazonia, March 2019.tree frogs, March 2019A pair of birds at Amazonia, March 2019.A bird in a tree at Amazonia, March 2019.A tank with piranas, March 2019.A pirnana, March 2019.
The large tank at the Amizonia exhibit, July 2008.
The large tank at the Amizonia exhibit, July 2008. | Source
A bird at the Amazonia exhibit, July 2008.
A bird at the Amazonia exhibit, July 2008. | Source
A small tank at the research section of Amazonia, March 2019.
A small tank at the research section of Amazonia, March 2019. | Source
tree frogs, March 2019
tree frogs, March 2019 | Source
A pair of birds at Amazonia, March 2019.
A pair of birds at Amazonia, March 2019. | Source
A bird in a tree at Amazonia, March 2019.
A bird in a tree at Amazonia, March 2019. | Source
A tank with piranas, March 2019.
A tank with piranas, March 2019. | Source
A pirnana, March 2019.
A pirnana, March 2019. | Source

Amazonia

This exhibit has specimens native to the Amazon River. Strollers have to be left outside. The entrance is on the ground floor, which has a subsurface theme. They have two large fish tanks that have fish from the Amazon. The fish range from neon tetras and guppies to arapaima and silver arowana. They have piranhas. There is a section that is a mockup of an Amazon field lab. Here the zoo explains the piranhas aren’t the eating machines depicted in the movies. This section has small tanks with creatures found in the Amazon.

There are steps up to the surface level. There is also an elevator available. At the surface level there is a pathway, surrounded by trees. Birds and monkeys share the area with the guests. Guests can also look down into the aquariums.

The exit leads to another part of the building that has specimens and items for research. Here they mentioned the reputation of the female black widow spider is exaggerated. The female devouring its mate happens under laboratory conditions but rarely happens in the wild. The area provides information about the drastic decline in the amphibian population.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The Kid's Farm, March 2019.An alpaca ath the Kid's Farm, March 2019.A horse at the Kid's Farm, July 2008.
The Kid's Farm, March 2019.
The Kid's Farm, March 2019. | Source
An alpaca ath the Kid's Farm, March 2019.
An alpaca ath the Kid's Farm, March 2019. | Source
A horse at the Kid's Farm, July 2008.
A horse at the Kid's Farm, July 2008. | Source

Kids’ Farm

This exhibit consists of farm animals and has a barnyard look to it. There is construction in the area and the National Zoo’s website advises routes may change and the walk through the fam may be longer than expected.[i] This is a chance to get a close look at farm animals. The exhibit also contains a pond stocked with koi and channel catfish.


[i] National Zoo, https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/exhibits/kids-farm, last accessed 4/27/2019.

© 2019 Robert Sacchi

Comments

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    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      3 weeks ago

      If you every make your way to Washington, DC definitely keep the zoo in mind. It would make an interesting comparison to the San Antonio Zoo.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      3 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

      It would be such a treat to be able to visit the Smithsonian's National Zoo in person. Thanks for this information and your photos.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      4 months ago

      Yes, the Zoo is part of the Smithsonian and most of the other Smithsonian sites are on the Washington, DC Mall, which is between the Capital Building and the Washington Monument.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      4 months ago from sunny Florida

      O hoping to visit there I visited the Smithsonian Museum many years ago as a child I am sure this would be an experience to remember Angels once again are headed your way ps

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      4 months ago

      Yes, it is a lot of ground to cover if someone is on a time schedule. Fortunately the zoo is laid out very well so it is easy to find what you are looking for.

    • Miebakagh57 profile image

      Miebakagh Fiberesima 

      4 months ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

      This information is noted.

    • DreamerMeg profile image

      DreamerMeg 

      4 months ago from Northern Ireland

      That sounds like an enormous amount of education and interest. 169 acres! That's a lot of ground to cover. Very interesting, thanks

    • Miebakagh57 profile image

      Miebakagh Fiberesima 

      4 months ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

      Noted.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      4 months ago

      the Smithsonian has a policy of not charging admission. This dates back from the Smithsonian's founding. There are other government tourist attractions, such as The White House and The Capital Building that don't charge. This is one thing that gives Washington, DC an edge over other tourists cities. I haven't done the entertainment routine in DC recently but when I did in the '80s I was surprised at how inexpensive it was to see a play.

    • Miebakagh57 profile image

      Miebakagh Fiberesima 

      4 months ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

      In my countryNigeria, no zoos are free to enter. You have to make some payment depending on time. The government promoted zoos are not either free.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      4 months ago from Beautiful South

      Admission is free? Man, that's a great deal! Our Little Rock Zoo has priced itself out of reach of ordinary families to take their children on a casual outing. Even my husband and I don't go anymore, and it's just the two of us.

    • Miebakagh57 profile image

      Miebakagh Fiberesima 

      4 months ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

      Hi, Robert, it is well appreciated. Thanks.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      4 months ago

      Thank you both.

    • Miebakagh57 profile image

      Miebakagh Fiberesima 

      4 months ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

      And awesome too!

    • Edna Straney profile image

      Edna Straney 

      4 months ago from Oneonta New York

      Great photos!

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      4 months ago

      Thank you all for reading and commenting.

      Doris James MizBejabbers - The $25 is for parking. Admission is free. One time the lots were full and I spent about 2 hours looking for a parking spot. The spot was far away from the zoo. Probably the best way to get around the parking fee is to go by Metro.

      Miebakagh Fiberesima - I appreciate you and your articles as well.

      Pamel Oglesby - Yes, there is much to see in Washington DC, far more than can be taken in during a short visit.

      FlourishAnyway - It's the gorillas. On one visit I went into the Great Ape house and there was no stench. Mentioned it to one of the staff. She said it was the gorilla, who wasn't there at the time, that had the stench. It does make one wonder if the gorillas aren't thinking, "stinking humans".

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      4 months ago from Beautiful South

      Very nice photos, Robert, you make me want to visit. So many zoos are pricing themselves out of the range of families, including the one in my city. I hope this one hasn't done that. At first I thought the $25 flat rate was for admission, but then I reread it as for parking. Please clarify that.

    • Miebakagh57 profile image

      Miebakagh Fiberesima 

      4 months ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

      Hi, Robert, I appreciated you.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      4 months ago from Sunny Florida

      I would love to visit this zoo, as when I went to Washington DC, there was so much to see and I didn't make i there. I got to see pandas as the Atlanta zoo several years ago, and they are so interesting. I love all your pictures and appreciate the information.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      4 months ago from USA

      Out of all of the trips I’ve made to DC, I can’t recall visiting the National Zoo so I was especially delighted to read this and look at your photos as well. I’m going to have to visit just to go to the zoo. I wonder why the monkey area smells so bad.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      4 months ago

      Thank you both for reading and commenting.

      Miebakagh Fiberesima - I primarily write about aircraft but I branch out into other areas. I also wrote an article about the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

      Edna - Yes, the zoo is one of the many great places to visit in DC.

    • Miebakagh57 profile image

      Miebakagh Fiberesima 

      4 months ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

      Hi, Robert, my pleasure in reading this natural article. I do not think you should write such a likable piece. I think you are only on films and aircraft.

      With such lovely pictures especially about His Majesty roaming freely! The fish tank is so fascinating because I am a fisherman. Thanks for sharing.

    • Edna Straney profile image

      Edna Straney 

      4 months ago from Oneonta New York

      Wow that sounds fabulous! I hope we can visit next time we are in the area!

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