The National Zoo is an absolute stunner of a zoo, emphasizing the animals’ natural environments so that many roam in large enclosures instead of pacing in cages. Two main paths link the many building and exhibits: Olmstead Walk, which passes all the animal houses, and the steeper Valley Trail, which includes all the aquatic exhibits. They add up to about two miles of trail.
The zoo’s nonlinear layout and lack of sight lines make a map invaluable; pick one up at the Education Building near the entrance. The most popular exhibits include the recently renovated Asian elephant house; the great apes; the white tiger; the cheetahs; and the giant pandas. Tian Tian and Mei Xiang in their new 12,000-square-foot habitat, complete with Chinese-style “mist” and rocky landscapes. Their famously photogenic first cub, stick ‘o butter Tai Shan, had to be returned to China, but his little sister Bao Bao is keeping the legend alive. The panda habitat is part of the Asia Trail, also stocked with sloth bears, giant Japanese salamanders, otters and the endangered clouded leopards.
Newest addition to National Zoo
The newest addition to the zoo’s environments is the American Trail, a five-year 42 million showcase of American species, many of them endangered, including sea lions and seals, gray wolves, otters, beavers, ravens, pelicans, and, of course, an American bald eagle.
For diversity and a good chance of seeing some animal activity, check out the Small Mammal House (with the irresistible sand cat), the invertebrate exhibit (kids can look through microscopes), and the huge outside bird cages (the condors look the size of Volkswagens).
Pollinarium, a lush garden housed in a 1,250-square-foot greenhouse, features hundreds of zebra long-wing butterflies. A glass-enclosed beehive gives an up-close glimpse of the activities of thousands of honeybees.
Think Tank attempts to answer the question “Can animals think?” by studying problem-solving ability, brain-size, and language. Amazonia is a 15,000-square-foot rain forest habitat. If you’re lucky – usually just before lunch – you might catch the orangutans barreling across their own private tramway in the air above Olmstead Walk.
National Zoo Touring Tips
Despite the fact that one Metro station is called Woodley Park/National Zoo, it’s downhill from the zoo entrance; take the Metro to Cleveland Park and walk down to the zoo for your visit, then take the easy way down to Woodley Park station when you are through. National Zoo is a Smithsonian museum and admission is free.
National Zoo Opening Hours
April through October the grounds are open 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. while the buildings open 10 a.m. till 6 p.m October through March the grounds are open 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. while the buildings open 10 a.m. till 4:30 p.m. The museum is open daily except for December 25. For more information call 202-673-4800 or visit the National Zoo website.
Bald Eagle by Stevehdc from Washington DC, USA (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Panda by Steve from Washington, DC, USA (snack time) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons