The Smithsonian National Zoological Park is one of Washington D.C.’s most popular attractions. It is one of the oldest zoos in the country and part of the Smithsonian Institution which also includes many significant museums in the nation’s capital.
The National Zoo was established by an act of Congress in 1889 and became part of the Smithsonian in 1890. In the first part of the 20th Century, the zoo focused merely on showcasing many types of exotic animals. By the 1950s, its priorities switched and the zoo hired a full-time veterinarian who provided professional care for the animals. During this period in 1958, the Friends of the National Zoo organization was founded as a non-profit and offered educational and volunteer programs. In the 1960s, the zoo turned its attention to endangered species and animals.
The National Zoo is mostly known for its giant pandas which are some of the Rarest Animals in the world. The first panda to arrive at the zoo was Ling Ling in 1972, and after the year 2000, Tian Tian and Mei Xiang who gave birth to Tai Shan in 2005 went back to China. Tian Tian and Mei Xiang are on a ten-year loan from the China Wildlife Conservation Association. The pandas are some of the zoo’s popular animals, and their names are well-known throughout the district.
Also in the Asia Trail, you will encounter giant salamanders, fishing cats, sloth bears, clouded leopards, and small-clawed Otters. Check out the Sumatran tigers and lions at the Great Cats exhibit, and the Asian elephants at the Elephant House which are considered an endangered species.
Other popular animal exhibits at the National Zoo are in the East African Savannah which has cheetahs including five recently born cheetah cubs. Be sure to visit the scimitar-horned oryx, dama gazelles, and zebras. Some of the other popular African species are African lions, Western lowland gorillas, Banded mongoose, and the Ring-tailed, Red-fronted, Red-ruffed lemurs. You will also find many species of African birds at the Bird House such as the white stork, the black crake, and the southern masked weaver.
A great exhibit to experience is at the Great Ape House where you will find a collection of Orangutans, Gibbons, Gorillas, and Black Howler monkeys. You can also discover smaller, less-known primates, such as Geoffroy’s tufted-eared marmoset, the golden lion tamarin which is an endangered species, and the golden-headed lion tamarin which comes from the eastern coast of Brazil.
There is so much to discover at the National Zoo, you might need more than a day to get it all in. The zoo is open daily from 10 am to 6 pm from April until October and 10 am to 4:30 pm from November to March. The zoo has many dining options if you get hungry such as Mane Grill, Panda Plaza Grill, Popstop, and Reptile Kiosk. There are also various carts, and if you want to bring your food, there are many picnic areas spread around the zoo. Like many other attractions in Washington D.C, admission to the National Zoo is free.