Smithsonian National Zoological Park

3001 Connecticut Avenue North West
202-633-4888

Mission

We are the Nation’s Zoo, demonstrating leadership in animal care, science, education and sustainability. We provide the highest quality animal care. We advance research and scientific knowledge in conserving wildlife. We teach and inspire people to protect wildlife, natural resources and habitats. We practice conservation leadership in all we do.

History

The Smithsonian’s National Zoo was founded in 1889. Its mission is to provide leadership in animal care, science, education, and sustainability. About 2,000 individuals of 400 different species are in the animal collection.

The National Zoo has two installations. The first is a beautiful 163-acre urban park located in Northwest Washington, D.C., 20 minutes from the National Mall by subway. It offers family fun, excitement, and stimulating education programs, as well as a peaceful setting to enjoy nature. The other is the non-public, 3,200-acre campus that serves as the headquarters for the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) in Front Royal, Virginia, which is devoted to training wildlife professionals in conservation biology and to propagating rare species through natural means and assisted reproduction.

The Zoo was created by an Act of Congress in 1889 for “the advancement of science and the instruction and recreation of the people.” In 1890 it became a part of the Smithsonian Institution. Plans for the Zoo were drawn up by three extraordinary people: Samuel Langley, third Secretary of the Smithsonian; William Temple Hornaday, noted conservationist and head of the Smithsonian’s vertebrate division; and Frederick Law Olmsted, the premier landscape architect of his day. 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, that were rapidly vanishing from North America.

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. Animals were relatively easy to obtain from the wild, and just as easy to replace when they died. The number of many species in the wild began to decline drastically, however, largely due to human activities. The fate of the Earth’s animals and plants became a pressing concern. Many of these species were favorite zoo animals, such as elephants and tigers; so Zoo staff began to concentrate on the long-term management and conservation of entire species.

The middle and late 1950s were a turning point for the Zoo. The first full-time, permanent veterinarian was hired, reflecting a priority placed on professional health care for the animals. In 1958, Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ) was founded. This citizen group’s first accomplishment was to persuade Congress to fund the Zoo’s budget entirely through the Smithsonian; previously, the Zoo’s budget was divided between the Smithsonian’s and the District of Columbia’s appropriations. This placed the Zoo on a firmer financial base, allowing for a period of growth and improvement. FONZ incorporated as a not-for-profit organization and turned its attention to developing education and volunteer programs, supporting these efforts from its operations of concessions at the Zoo, and to expanding community support for the Zoo through a growing membership.

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 zoological research division was created to study the reproduction, behavior, and ecology of zoo species, and learn how best to meet the needs of the animals.

Later, in 1975, the Zoo established the Conservation and Research Center (CRC), thus renewing its original commitment to serve as a “refuge for vanishing wildlife.” Headquartered on 3,200 acres of Virginia countryside, rare species, such as Mongolian wild horses, scimitar-horned oryx, maned wolves, cranes, and other species live and breed in peaceful, spacious surroundings. CRC has since been renamed the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI). SCBI’s efforts emphasize conservation biology, reproductive physiology, analysis of habitat and species relationships, and the training of conservation scientists. During this period, FONZ offered increasing financial support for the Zoo’s conservation and research initiatives.

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.

Along with the increased efforts in research and conservation came the need to expand public understanding of wildlife and the environment. Public education programs were developed to help students, teachers, and families explore the intricacies of the animal world. Specialized programs were designed 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.

FONZ is an integral partner in the Zoo’s efforts. Its 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.

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, have symbolized the Zoo’s efforts to celebrate, study, and protect endangered species and their habitats. The July 9, 2005, birth of giant panda Tai Shan underscores these efforts.

Plans for the future include modernizing the Zoo’s aging facilities and expanding its education, research, and conservation efforts both in Washington and in the wild. A Kids’ Farm exhibit opened in 2004, and a ten-year renewal program has already seen the creation of Asia Trail, a series of wonderful habitats for seven Asian species, including sloth bears, red pandas, and clouded leopards. Elephant Trails will provide a new home for the Zoo's Asian elephants.

As the National Zoo celebrates the 120th anniversary of its establishment in 1889, its mission to provide leadership in animal care, science, education, and sustainability is as vital as ever if humankind is to save what remains of the Earth’s biological diversity.


Reviews

Melissa Stull

Rating:
Tuesday, July 25, 2017

This zoo has a great variety of animals and birds. I'm fact, the bird exhibit is absolutely fascinating. If I could change 1 thing about this zoo, it'd be the amount of open space between exhibits which results in a lot of extra walking. It wouldn't be so bad if they had additional resting areas with benches and or tables. On an extremely hot day and the amount of walking required to take in this enormous zoo, the benches would be appreciated by many, I'm sure. Exhibites have awesome enrichment toys, etc for the animals inside. Some enclosures are a bit small, but overall a great zoo!

James Yao

Rating:
Thursday, July 20, 2017

Admission to the zoo is free. If you plan on parking, there is a $22 flat fee for non-VIP members. There is convenient way of getting to the zoo by metro. You can take either the red or green line and it stops relatively close to the entrance. Overall, the zoo is huge. There is a diverse selection of animals on display. I spent four hours looking at the animals, but was only able to see half of them. The only concern is the price of food. It can get quite pricey for a small meal or a bottle of water.

Pam Donica

Rating:
Tuesday, June 20, 2017

32 reviews We went on 6/12/2017. I like what they've done to the zoo since I was there last in 2002. It has downsized to give more room for the animals, which I think is awesome. Sadly, when we were there, the tiger/lions were put up due to construction. We took our daughter to DC for her graduation present, and this was the exhibit she wanted to see most. Overall, it was a nice, hot day :) The staff was friendly and helpful, and the bathrooms were clean. The park is still as gorgeous as it was 15 years ago, and the cute little petting farm was adorable! I'd love to bring my grandchildren to this zoo in the future.

Rhyheem Cauley

Rating:
Sunday, July 16, 2017

There were No signs for VIP parking. The Great Ape House was Depressing,The smell was overwhelming and very disturbing. The elephant conservation center smells better! The day rooms where the animals were kept are small and the glass was filthy. The outdoor exhibit was very unnatural and small as well . No natural tress vines or any natural enrichment for the primates. ALL the indoor exhibits were HOT and uncomfortable I'm sure it's not comfortable to the animals and certainly is not comfortable to your guest. I have recently visited the Philadelphia Zoo primate house with big open bright day rooms. Big grassy outdoor exhibit with natural enrichment and it doesn't smell like 10 dead rhinos inside. You guys should really consider a change for your primates. It's not fair!

Allorie Cabrera

Rating:
Thursday, June 8, 2017

Out of the many zoos I have visited, this one was very impressive. It provided a comfortable atmosphere and made you feel welcomed right away. The animals (Unlike other zoos) were incredibly agile and healthy looking. For example, the elephant showed healthy behavior, such as its ears flapping, and tail or trunk swinging (constant motion), and its Skin, which looked soft and resilient. The staff constantly asked us about our visit, making sure we were satisfied. One con, is that many of the exhibits were under construction, or there was just no animals in view. I would like to visit again!