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Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo

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History

Two buffalo are in a paddock in the South Yard behind the Smithsonian Institution Building. They were acquired in 1886 by the United States National Museum's Department of Living Animals, which eventually became the National Zoological Park. This photograph, taken sometime between 1886 and 1889, predates the founding of the NZP which was established by Act of Congress in 1889.

The Smithsonian’s National Zoo began on the National Mall in 1887. Located behind the iconic Smithsonian Castle, the popular exhibit showcased black bears, eagles, and bison; it drew thousands of visitors every day.

The area that is now American Trail features North American species and was formerly known as Beaver Valley. It got its name from a family of wild beavers that originally lived in that area of Rock Creek Park. The valley made a perfect habitat for them because of a natural spring that flowed through it. When Beaver Valley officially became an exhibit of the National Zoo it was home to North American beavers, mountain lions, bobcats, bald eagles, brown pelicans, gray seals, California sea lions, many species of ducks and geese, North American river otters, and white-tailed deer.