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The Smithsonian National Zoological Park, commonly known as the National Zoo, is a zoo located in Washington, D.C.marker It is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Founded in 1889, it consists of two distinct installations: a 163 acre (0.7 km²) zoo within the Rock Creek Parkmarker in Washington, D.C., and a 3,200 acre (13 km²) Conservation and Research Centermarker located in Front Royalmarker, Virginiamarker, at the edge of the Shenandoah National Parkmarker. The zoo in Washington is free and open to the public and is dedicated in large part to education; the conservation center in Virginia is closed to the public and is used primarily to breed and study endangered species. Altogether, the two facilities contain some 2,000 animals of 400 different species. The National Zoo, as part of the Smithsonian Institution, receives federal appropriations for operating expenses. The zoo’s support society, Friends of the National Zoo, provides support with private funds. Recently, the zoo had been censured for mismanagement and an overall degradation in quality, culminating in the termination of the park's heavily criticized director in 2004; however, a new master plan introduced for the park in 2008 designs to upgrade the park's exhibits and layout.


The National Zoo was founded by famed naturalist and American conservation leader William T. Hornaday. Hornaday, serving as a taxidermist for the Smithsonian Institutionmarker, became increasingly concerned over the decline of many native American species, most notably the American bison. Hornaday envisioned a facility that would breed endangered American animals in captivity and educate the public about wildlife. He opened a small trial zoo outside the Smithsonian castle featuring bison, bears, and other American animals. With the aid of the Secretary of the Smithsonian, the United States Congress approved the founding of a National Zoological Park in Rock Creek Park. Hornaday clashed with Smithsonian Institution Secretary Samuel Pierpont Langley over the zoo's design, and eventually resigned his position and left Washington. He later went on to help found and serve as the first director of the Bronx Zoomarker.
Olmsted Walk, near the zoo's Elephant House
The zoo grew slowly, mostly from contributions of animals from the public and circuses. It nearly closed several times in its early history. It did not begin to truly grow until William Mann became the zoo's third director, prior to World War II. Mann organized collecting expeditions around the world to bring a variety of species to the zoo, some commonplace, "must haves" like giraffes and leopards, others great rarities, like a young gorilla.

Today, the National Zoo is recognized as one of the premier zoological research institutions in the United States, largely because of its contributions to captive breeding through artificial manipulation, and studies done on wild and free-ranging species. The National Zoo conducts research in numerous field stations around the world, providing expertise and logistical support to local research and conservation efforts in Asia, Africa, Europe, and North and South America. In addition to the National Zoo's D.C. campus, the zoo has a second facility, the Conservation and Research Center, in Front Royal, Virginia. This facility is devoted to breeding and conducting veterinary and reproductive research.

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 maintains its own Police Department, the National Zoological Park Police, which consists of 50 full-time and part-time 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 work very closely with the Metropolitan Police Department and the United States Park Police.

Special events

In partnership with Friends of the National Zoo, a non-profit organization, the zoo holds annual fund raisers (ZooFari, Guppy Gala, and Boo at the Zoo) and free events (North American Wildlife Celebration, Sunset Serenades, Fiesta Musical). Also, each Easter Monday, the National Zoo serves as the venue for the African American Family Celebration. This celebration has been a tradition for more than 100 years. The celebration began in response to the inability of African Americans to participate in the annual Easter Egg Roll held at the White Housemarker, until the Dwight Eisenhower presidency.

Exhibits and animals

The following are features of the zoo:
Lion at the National Zoo
Flamingo at the National Zoo
Outdoor yard of the Elephant House

Giant pandas

Panda Cub (Tai Shan) and mother (Mei Xiang) at the National Zoo
The government of Chinamarker donated two giant pandas, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing , to the zoo two months after President Richard Nixon's historic 1972 trip to Chinamarker. Ling-Ling died in 1992 and Hsing-Hsing in 1999 without producing any cubs that survived into adulthood. (Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing had five cubs between 1983 and 1989, but all died within a few days of birth.)

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 . 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.
Tai Shan at the National Zoo.
The cub was named Tai Shan ("Peaceful Mountainmarker") 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. (If Tai Shan survives into adulthood, he will become the third giant panda to do so in U.S. history. The only panda cubs that have survived to adulthood in the United States were born at the San Diego Zoomarker in 1999 and 2003. A fourth living cub was born at the San Diego Zoomarker on August 2, 2005, and a fifth was born at Zoo Atlantamarker in early September 2006.)

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.


Between 1999 and 2005, mismanagement led to the accidental or neglectful deaths of around two dozen animals in the National Zoo's care, threatening the Zoo's accreditation and causing the resignation of its director, Lucy Spelman, at the end of 2004 . One incident involved the January 2003 death of two endangered red pandas after they ate vermin poison that had been buried in their yard by a contractor that was unlicensed in the District of Columbia. The incident led the city of Washington to seek to fine the zoo over its claim of federally granted immunity. In another notable incident in July 2003, a predator managed to enter an exhibit and kill a Bald Eagle, prompting the Washington Post to run a story with the headline "Nation's Emblem of Freedom Dies on Independence Day." Zoo officials later stated that the animal was likely killed by a red fox.In 2005, a three-year-old Sulawesi macaque named Ripley, was killed in the Think Tank when two keepers were closing a hydraulic door. The keepers did not realize the monkey was in the doorway at the time they were closing the door. It was the third death that month at the National Zoo. [31464], WTOP News Website 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 practiced medicine on several of the animals that died and were featured in the Washington Post article based on Dr. Nichols' released 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 and never cleared of personally altering medical records to make them sound more benign than what actually transpired, often stating that medical records are not legal documents but rather "a user-friendly way of maintaining and sharing important information". The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) specifically states "it is unethical for a veterinarian to remove ... medical records or any part of any record".

In January 2005, the National Academy of Sciencesmarker 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."His finding, however, was not widely reported by the Washington Post nor other media outlets.

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.

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, accused the National Zoo that inadequate care over her lifespan in captivity led to the conditions that ultimately led to her death. Later that year in December, a clouded leopard escaped from its new exhibit at the Asia Trails due to weak fencing used to confine it.

Changes in 2005 and beyond

In 2005, the National Zoo appointed a new director, John Berry. Under his brief tenure, political celebrities such as Bill Frist (R-Tenn) and Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) have been seen regularly touring the zoo. Senator Frist's visit as a heart consultant to one of the zoo's gorillas was featured as an editorial story on the Washington Post by Laura Blumenfeld.

A new master plan introduced in 2008 provides for major changes to the zoo including redesigning exhibits, a new visitors center, and the construction of an aerial tram. Berry resigned in 2009 to become director of the Office of Personnel Management. Steven L. Monfort serves as acting director.


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