Smithsonian National Zoological Park
September 2007

The Smithsonian's National Zoo was established on March 2, 1889, by an Act of Congress for the advancement of science and the instruction and recreation of the people. Today, the National Zoo exhibits living animal and plant collections, and conducts research in conservation biology and reproductive science. Its mission is to provide leadership in animal care, science, education, and sustainability.

Each year, more than two million people visit the National Zoo's 163-acre park in the heart of Washington, D.C., to learn about the approximately 2,000 animals representing nearly 400 species.

  • Nearly a quarter of the animals at the National Zoo are endangered species, and include giant pandas, Asian elephants, white-naped cranes, and western lowland gorillas.
  • The National Zoo has 180 species of trees, 850 species of woody shrubs and herbaceous plants, and 40 species of grasses, including dozens of species of bamboo.
  • The National Zoo's giant panda family—Mei Xiang, Tian Tian, and their male cub Tai Shan—live at the Fujifilm Giant Panda Habitat. Tai Shan was born on July 9, 2005. The giant panda adults are on a $10 million, ten-year loan from China as part of a research, conservation and breeding program. The cub will be moved to China after he is two years old, to participate in a breeding program there.
  • The National Zoo's young male Asian elephant, Kandula, is the fifth elephant calf in the world conceived through artificial insemination. Born in 2001, Kandula represents a first step in Zoo efforts to develop a herd of breeding elephants. Currently, there are three Asian elephants at the National Zoo.
  • There are three Sumatran tigers—two adults and one of their offspring—and four African lions that call the National Zoo home. Lusaka is our adult female lion. Females Shera and Nababiep and male Luke are our young lions. Male Rokan, female Soyono, and their male offspring, Guntur, round out the Great Cats exhibit.
  • There are currently five cheetahs at the Zoo's Cheetah Conservation Station. The Zoo welcomed the birth of the first cheetahs ever born at the Zoo in November 2004 and April 2005. The cubs have left for other zoos.
  • Bald eagles Tioga and Samantha, both injured in the wild and unable to fly, are part of an exhibit where visitors can view the eagles from a close-up observation blind. Created through a partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, they are part of an exhibit that includes an interactive display on the nation's wildlife refuges.

Research and Conservation

The National Zoo was one of the first zoos to establish a scientific research program. Today, the Zoo's research team studies animals both in the wild and at the Zoo. Its research encompasses reproductive biology, conservation biology, biodiversity monitoring, veterinary medicine, nutrition, behavior, ecology, and bird migration.

Zoo scientists work at the National Zoo's exhibits and lab facilities in Washington, D.C., and at the National Zoo's 3,200-acre Conservation and Research Center in Front Royal, Va., as well as at field sites around the world.

Many animals at the National Zoo are part of conservation efforts managed by Species Survival Plans (SSPs). Through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' SSPs, zoos match and exchange animals for breeding, fostering scientific research, and reintroducing animals back into the wild. Early breeding programs at the National Zoo serve as models to develop other zoo-based conservation programs worldwide, and the Zoo directs several breeding programs for such species as golden lion tamarins and maned wolves.

The National Zoo is a premier institution for educating future scientists and conservation professionals. During the last 20 years, more than 2,000 people from 80 countries have been trained through the Zoo's zoological medicine residency training program and professional conservation and veterinary medicine courses.

Revitalization and Future Plans

On October 17, 2006, the Fujifilm Giant Panda Habitat and Asia Trail opened as the first major step in a ten-year initiative to renovate and modernize the National Zoo. The new and expanded Fujifilm Giant Panda Habitat is the gateway to Asia Trail; the six other species living along the Trail are sloth bears, fishing cats, clouded leopards, red pandas, Asian small-clawed otters, and giant salamanders.

Kids' Farm, an exhibit designed to introduce young children to domesticated farm animals, opened in June 2004. This interactive exhibit provides hands-on opportunities for children to care for the animals under close, trained supervision.

The Zoo has announced plans for Elephant Trails, an innovative and stimulating new home for a multi-generational herd, where our Asian elephants will thrive and our visitors can experience the extraordinary reality of a living elephant.


The National Zoo’s budget is part of the Smithsonian Institution budget. The annual federal appropriation for National Zoo operating expenses at both the Rock Creek and Front Royal facilities for fiscal year 2006 is $20 million; Congress also authorized $14.2 million for extensive renovations.

The Zoo’s support society, Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ), provides an additional $4 million to $8 million in private funds annually. Created in 1958, FONZ is a nonprofit organization with more than 40,000 members. FONZ is dedicated to supporting the conservation, education and research efforts of the National Zoo.


The National Zoo maintains a staff of 250 between the Rock Creek and Front Royal, Virginia, facilities, including animal caretakers, veterinarians and scientists. More than 100 facilities maintenance staff and 30 police officers are assigned to the Zoo.

FONZ supports the National Zoo by developing and implementing education, membership and volunteer programs; hosting special events; raising funds for Zoo projects; and providing grants for Zoo research. FONZ operates an extensive wildlife-education program, and its corps of more than 1,500 volunteers provides about 90,000 hours of service to the Zoo each year. FONZ also provides concessions, merchandise and parking services for Zoo visitors. ZooFari and Boo at the Zoo are a few of the special events that FONZ hosts each year for its members and the general public.