Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



Great Cats Exhibit

You can see the Zoo's tigers and lions daily in their outdoor habitats at Great Cats, atop Lion/Tiger Hill, from about 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Nababiep and Shera, the female lions, can be seen together. Luke, the male, is exhibited separately. The lions are not all on exhibit at the same time.

The Zoo's Sumatran tigers can be seen in separate yards.

The cheetahs can be found at the Cheetah Conservation Station.

Learn where the Zoo's other cats can be seen.

This guide will help you prepare for your visit to the Great Cats exhibit at the Zoo.

Welcome to Great Cats, a walk-through exhibit-story featuring lions and tigers and their tenuous hold in our world today.

In Great Cats you can

  • Watch living, breathing, roaring tigers and a lion. Get to know each of these ambassadors for wild tigers and lions personally.
  • Pat a Tyrannosaurus rex on the nose and check out its teeth. Learn why big, fierce animals are rare today, how all the wild tigers on earth could fit on Lion/Tiger Hill, and why they cannot live that way.
  • Follow tiger tracks through the trees. Compare yourself with a tiger, learn how growing up tiger is as challenging as growing up human, and learn how kids are speaking out to keep a place for tigers in our world today.
  • Listen to tigers and lions roar. Lions can count; can you count the number of lions roaring? If a lion gets it wrong, the consequences can be deadly.

Great Cats brings you the National Zoo's lions and tigers up close and personal in a fun and exciting learning adventure.

The Zoo's lions and tigers are graceful, specialized, and powerful animals. Yet, they are among the most endangered animals on earth. The future of great cats is in people’s hands. Without major human efforts and tolerance, these magnificent animals will become extinct. National Zoo conservation biologists are working alongside conservation biologists on the tiger's home ground in Asia, to develop the scientific understanding that is the foundation for effective conservation action. You, the zoogoer, can help.

Three outdoor great cat habitats totaling 30,000 square feet are the daytime home for the Zoo’s lions and tigers. Here, great cats lounge in the shade under towering scarlet and red oaks and Himalayan pines, hide in the scattered bamboo thickets, rest in the shelter of dens built into the terraced hills, and patrol their territorial boundaries along the edges of the ponds.

Great cats survey their domain from the top terraces or descend and lounge in the ponds at the base of each hill. Note the dark stains (marked with arrows) near the edges of the ponds on the walls. Those are scent marks the great cats freshen up each day. At night the great cats come indoors to eat and sleep.

The Great Cats Trail curves 900 feet around the outer edge of the habitats. As you go along the Great Cats Trail, watch the great cats in their habitats go about their lives, enjoy stunning photographs, read about timely and informative great cat topics in biology, conservation, and care, and test your skills while learning about great cat biology.

While you view the tigers, you can learn about

How the Zoo cares for its tigers.

Why the Zoo is no longer breeding to obtain tigers with white coats.

How tigers communicate with one another without coming face to face.

How we can learn to live with tigers—to have any hope of preventing the tiger’s extinction, we must also strive to understand the lives of people who make their homes alongside them.

How kids are speaking out on behalf of tigers.

What wild and zoo tigers do all day.

"What of the hunting, hunter bold?" as Rudyard Kipling asked.

How scientists track tigers—to save tigers you have to learn their way of life. You can follow the tiger’s movements and see what Smithsonian scientist Mel Sunquist learned as he followed a radio-tagged tigress in Nepal.

How scientists are photographing elusive wild tiger—to count them. Can you tell how many different tigers have been photographed?

How tigers are adapted for their hunting and predatory way of life. Can you identify the individual tigers in front of you?

Are tigers going, going, soon to be gone? The tiger’s future is in our hands. You can press a button and listen to curator John Seidensticker describe the tiger’s plight and how you can help.

Where the Zoo got its tigers. Turn the pages and learn how Zoo scientists work as a team to maintain a healthy zoo tiger population.

While you view the lions, you can learn about

Male lions as comrades in arms—competition is so stiff that only a very few succeed.

Female lions: a dynasty for defense, because it takes a pride to rear the cubs.

The Zoo, where lions live on easy street.

Listening to lions roar—lions can count. Press the button and listen. Can you count the number of lions roaring? If a lion makes a mistake, it can mean serious injury or even death.

What lions do with their time? Lion behavior here mirrors behavior in the wild.

Along the Great Cat walkway, there are stops where you can go to get a little closer to the great cats and have a clearer view.

Enter the machan to get a closer look right over the ponds into the great cat habitats. Wheel your stroller right on in so kids can have a scientist’s eye view of the tigers and lions in their habitats. Check out the view through the lion and tiger spotters.

Pause at the Tiger Kids Stop. Rest in the shade. Have a drink. Let the kids romp and roll on the super-soft floor. Step into the windows, out over the ponds in the tiger and lion habitats to get a real close look. Find the tiger in the mural. What other potentially "dangerous" animals can you find?

Enter the world of predators

Pat the full-size terrible tyrant lizard on its bronze nose. This is a bronze cast of a complete Tyrannosaurus rex skull found in Montana.

Check out those teeth. Match your arm length to an actual cast of a T. rex footprint.

The ground no longer shakes from the footfalls of T. rex and hasn’t for 65 million years, but every zoogoer and zoo curator can dream about the largest land-living carnivore ever.

Tigers are among the largest land-living mammalian carnivores (meat-eaters). They are powerful hunters with sharp teeth, strong jaws, and an agile body. Tigers are the largest members of the cat family (Felidae), although Sumatran tigers are the smallest type (subspecies) of tiger.

We all want to see the great cats and other large predators survive. For them to do so means we have to learn tolerance and how to live side by side with them. Contemplate all this while you enjoy the shade and view the tigers through windows over the ponds in the tiger’s habitat.

Tiger Tracks is for kids of all ages

Enter enchanting Tiger Tracks, which curves for 250 feet along the crest of Lion/Tiger Hill overlooking Rock Creek. Follow the tracks of a tigress and her cubs and explore this new interactive world of fun and learning about tigers.

What do you think about tigers: scary, dangerous, fun-loving? Enter their world and learn.

In the shade of a large white pine, stop and compare yourself to a tiger

Rub your finger along a tiger’s tongue.

Match your hand to a tiger’s paws.

Look under each door and seek how a tiger makes his day.

Press the button and hear a tiger roar. This is Rokan, the male Sumatran tiger in the habitat looking for a the tigress Soy.

Go on a bit to find out how you match up to a tiger, its prey, or other smaller cats? Weigh yourself and see.

A little further on learn about Growing Up Tiger

Read about the trials tiger cubs face while growing up.

Compare a tiger’s life growing up with your own.

Spin the wheel to learn just what dangers lurk out there for a young tiger growing up.

Look at the full-size, full-grown tiger scratching and marking the tree next to you. Is she big enough for you?

Move on to learn about Tiger Conservation

Kids speak out about their concern for the tiger’s future.

Spin the wheels and match the colors on the "tootsie-roll"—learn what tigers need from nature, what zoos are doing for tigers, learn that tigers live in many countries in Asia but it will take a world of effort to save them, and learn what you can do for tigers.

Don’t miss the full-size tiger stretching beside the trail, near where Tiger Tracks exit joins the Great Cats Trail.