Washington DC, United States of America
The Smithsonian National Zoological Park, or National Zoo, is a park made up of two very different campuses created by an act of Congress in 1889 that was created for “the advancement of science and the instruction and recreation of the people”. The mission of this extensive entity was intended to provide leadership in animal care, animal science, education, sustainability of all ecosystems and as well as an enhanced visitor’s experience. At the establishment of the National Zoo, conservation was an integral idea which resulted in more than just a facility for viewing animals from its inception.
The zoo has two campuses, the zoo in Washington DC, only twenty minutes from the National Mall, which is a 163 acre facility. Not far away, in Front Royal, Virginia, is the 3200 hundred acre reserve where many species intermingle and where wildlife professionals are trained in conservation Biology and the main focus is propagation of rare species. Between the two facilities, there are more than two thousand animals of more than 400 species, many of which are contributing to the health and survival of their wild counterparts through the preservation and conservation efforts of The Smithsonian.
At the city campus, admission is free. One of the most famous exhibits is that of the Giant Pandas, which the Smithsonian has taken an interest in for more than 30 years. In order to provide these great, cuddly yet powerful creatures with the best possible living environment, the portion of the zoo where they, as well as many other unique Asian animal reside, underwent a ten year remodel. The animals on the “Asia Trail” that got a better space also included the sloth bear, red pandas and clouded leopards. The zoo has been working with clouded leopards since the 1970’s in an effort to study and preserve these highly endangered Asian cats. In the past 30 years, more than 70 clouded leopards have been born at the zoo’s Front Royal Campus, making them leaders in breeding this species. Clouded leopards are very difficult to breed due to male aggression high cub mortality. In the wild, clouded leopards are elusive and little is known about their behaviors or population numbers, but their natural forest habitat is disappearing quickly and they are definitely at risk. The new cubs are not only adorable, but are a valuable asset to the continued conservation efforts of their species.
With over 2 million visitors a year, the Smithsonian National Zoo is one of the most popular zoos in America. There is so much to do and see, but a few of the exhibits not to miss are the Amazonia, The Great Apes and the Great Cats. Amazonia is the largest of the exhibits and is more than 15000 square feet that mimics the rainforests of South America. There are 350 species of plant life, including trees filled with life like the two-toed sloth, titi monkeys, smooth-sided toads, and hummingbirds that zip about the flowered vines. There is a 55,000 gallon tank provided a view of what lies beneath the surface of the Amazon River, including dozens of strange and colorful fish like the bleeding heart tetra, lipstick leporinus, or even the red-bellied piranha.
The is more than one location to view the Great Apes, including the Great Ape House and another area called the “Think Tank”. The Think Tank is an area of the zoo accessible to certain species, including two species of primates, the orangutans and the macaques, where visitors can actually explore the process of thinking. What is truly interesting is that the orangutans can choose which exhibit they want to be in, as there is a cable line, called the “O line” along which they can travel, from one to the other! A system of cables and towers from which they can swing or walk on allows these great orange apes a larger living spaces and the ability to choose for themselves where they would like to be!
The Great Cats exhibit features an African Lion Pride with seven cubs, and two Sumatran tigers, and the North American exhibit features animals indigenous to this continent. There is an Ocean life exhibit, and two rescued California sea lions as well as two gray seals are residents. Giant clams are a new edition to the invertebrate collection, making their home amongst the coral and other cnidarians.
There are many other amazing creatures to see at the Smithsonian National Zoo and so many programs to learn more about the animals. Visit the Cheetah Station to learn about the fastest land animals in the world, or the about strange yet fascinating small animals like the golden lion Tamarin, or the three-banded Armadillo at the Small Mammal House. There is even an area called the Kids Farm where children can learn about taking care of animals and farming. The experiences to be had at this zoo are limitless.