What trip to Washington, D.C. could be complete without a day at the Zoo! It's an all day event, so bring your water bottle, good walking shoes and enjoy the sights. We went on the third week of April and the weather was wonderful.
One of the best places to spend a pleasant Washington day is the National Zoo. First of all, it's free, which adds to the pleasure. But most importantly its a great way to enjoy a nice day outdoors and see some beautiful animals. Some of them are rare (or getting rarer) like tigers, golen lion tamarins, pandas and cheetahs, while others are common North American animals, such as bald eagles, bison or prairie dogs. If you're not from North America, these are good animals to focus on.
The reason we mention that it should be a nice day is that the hot, humid summer heat in Washington generally drives the animals inside or to sleep. On a temperate spring or autumn day (preferably in the morning or evening), most of the animals are more inclined to be active (including the pandas). The spring and fall also have the added advantage of fewer visitors to contend with. If you have to come in the summer, you definitely want to avoid the heat of the day.
And, of course, the zoo is a great place to take kids. We went with our 1-year-old nephew Scott, who loved all the rodents. He's a rat kid!
Unfortunately, in recent years, you may have read that Zoo incompetence has led to the death of some of the animals. The worst example of this is when attendants buried rat poison in the red panda pens, forgetting that red pandas dig for their food. This caused the death of these rare and beautiful creatures. Happily, the Zoo has installed new management and Washingtonians are hopeful that this will result in improved animal care
The National Zoo has a great birds. There are many varieties with a focus on Australian birds.
The zoo is free. Parking can be very expensive though. Take the metro or come with a group because the charge is only per vehicle. It's 16 dollars for the day.
The Smithsonian’s National Zoo was founded by an Act of Congress in 1889 for “the advancement of science and the instruction and recreation of the people.” Its mission is to study, celebrate, and protect the diversity of animals and their habitats. It was designed 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. About 2,700 individuals of 435 different species are in the animal collection. In 1890 it became a part of the Smithsonian Institution.
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. Its education programs, as well as a peaceful setting to enjoy nature. But as with most popular sites, the food is over priced. The other is a research center and not open to the public.
The animals live in natural groupings rather than as individuals. Rare and endangered species raise their young much as they do in the wild. Public education programs were developed familiarize the visitor to the animal world. Programs were designed to train wildlife professionals from around the world and to form a network to provide crucial support for international conservation.
Since 1972, The National Zoo has been the home to giant pandas, first Hsing Hsing and Ling Ling, and then Mei Xiang and Tian Tian in 2000. They have symbolized the Zoo’s efforts to celebrate, study, and protect endangered species and their habitats.
Currently there are plans for the modernizing of the and in expanding its education, research, and conservation efforts both in Washington and in the wild. A Kids’ Farm exhibit opened in 2004, and a new, ten-year renewal program will see the creation of an Asia Trail that will include sloth bears, giant and red pandas, fishing cats, giant salamanders, and a breeding Asian elephant herd.
Set in Woodley Park and a short walk from the Metro is one of the country's finest zoos. Admission is free of charge. You will find some animals which are hard to find at many zoos. The most famous residents right now seem to be the Giant Pandas from China. They are certainly amazing, but only a part of what the zoo has to offer. Spread throughout the zoo are animals from all over the world. A trip here can take a good part of the day, but it is great for children and those who are fascinated by animals.
By all means, go to the zoo in DC... it's free, it's huge, it's wonderful. But don't buy food there! The food is expensive and AWFUL.
My suggestion: get off the Metro at Cleveland Park, not Woodley Park/Zoo. (They're equidistant from the zoo entrance, but it's a downhill walk from Cleveland Park.) As you exit the Metro, you'll walk to the left down Connecticut Avenue. You'll pass many good restaurants, but my recommendation is that you stop at Vace Italian Deli. They sell very good pizza for $1.50 a slice. If you want, they'll heat it and wrap it in foil for you to carry out.
Enjoy your picnic at the zoo... just beware of bees, there are seemingly billions of them around the picnic areas and the trash cans. I'd recommend finding a picnic spot away from those trouble zones.
It's worth making the trip out to the National Zoo just to see the Giant Pandas, some of the coolest animals on earth. There are two at this zoo, on the way in there was a queue to see them in their outdoor habitat but the line went pretty quickly. On the way out, it was after they were brought indoors and you get a much closer view of the fascinating creatures.
I took the metro to Cleveland Park, there is a slight incline on Connecticut Avenue so it's easier walking from that direction. Just past the Woodley Park metro there are a bunch of interesting looking restaurants if you don't want to eat zoo food, I tried Lebanese Taverna.
There are many panda sculptures around Washington DC. They come in the same size and shape, as seen in photo, but painted in different colors and designs. Is panda the official mascot of Washington DC? Not sure. But what I'm sure is that panda continues to be the major attraction of the National Zoo.
The zoo in Washington DC has the title of National Zoo. But it's actually very small. Many years ago I walked here from Dupont Circle area where I stayed to see the famous panda. At the time panda was located not too far from the entrance. Now they moved it to the center area where they plan to build an Asian zone. I didn't see panda this time though. I came too late, about 8pm, and past most animals' working hours. The photo shows "mara", a rabbit-like animal that can be found in south Argentina.
We also had the chance to take a tour of the Washington Zoo. This is a great zoo, with the animals given quite a lot of freedom in their enclosures. This gave us the chance to think back on our African days and also look forward to new adventures in the Far East!
The National Zoo. They have two new, great playful pandas. Lines are long to see them. I love the small mammal house and the blind naked mole exhibit.
In this picture, my kids were allowed to go in back of the komodo dragon exhibit (or maybe it's a monitor lizard. I can't remember now). The keeper opened the door and allowed the reptile to smell their hands.
Some folks say that a lot of taxpayer money was wasted on this zoo. They say that all they needed to do was put a fence around Washington and you have your zoo. That may be true for some parts of the city, but I enjoyed the National Zoo so much that I went twice. The first time was part of a series of day trips in August, 1979, which we took as an alternative to original holiday plans that went awry. The second was in April, 1982, on a seventh grade field trip to Washington, which included the zoo. There were all different kinds of animals, but I remember the bald eagle on the first trip most of all.
I know some people object to zoos, but if you like them, the National Zoo in upper northwest DC is a fine choice (and it's FREE!). From the rare white tigers to the playful seals to the smelly elephant house there's an animal for everyone. My favorites are the big cats and the reptile house. BE ADVISED: the zoo is adjacent to Rock Creek Park and the terrain is extraordinarily hilly. Wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to do a lot of walking. Wheelchairs are available (free, but deposit required) for those needing them; strollers may be rented.
As you watch the panda's play, a volunteer for the zoo explains their care and habits, the environmental impact of humans on the habitat of wild species, the failing populations of pandas in the wild, the slow progress in efforts to reproduce offspring in zoos. An introductory education on preserving endangered species is the backdrop for panda watching.
The pandas are most active ealy in the day. The summer's heat also has an inhibiting effect on their activity. If you visit on a cool morning, you may be treated to watching TianTian and Mei Xiang romping in their play yard.