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Stars in Our Sky

From the January-February 2012 issue of Smithsonian Zoogoer

Stars shine brightest against a dark sky. In the same way, acts of generosity are all the more vivid against the backdrop of tough times. The Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park has indeed seen financial challenges lately due to reduced federal budgets, but I’m grateful to be able to report that we’ve also benefited from some extraordinary generosity. I’d like to pause here to recognize and thank some of our most luminous benefactors from 2011.

This time last year, my colleagues and I on the Zoo’s leadership team faced stark federal budgetary realities and came to the hard decision that we needed to close the Kids’ Farm. The grim news led to an outpouring of support for that cherished exhibit. Within a few months, we were able to announce happier tidings: State Farm® had agreed to donate $1.4 million to keep the farm open for five years. It was a timely and generous gift that will make a world of difference to countless children and families. Thank you, State Farm®!

Dennis Kelly

Director, Smithsonian's National Zoological Park (Mehgan Murphy/NZP)

Children’s and families’ delight in the Zoo will also receive a boost from the generosity of the Speedwell Foundation, which is donating $1.5 million toward the creation and placement of our new Conservation Carousel. Slated to open for ZooLights 2012, it will celebrate Earth’s glorious biodiversity with figures of animals from deserts, forests, grasslands, wetlands, and oceans. The new carousel will stand opposite Lemur Island, by the Great Cats exhibit. Thank you, Speedwell Foundation!

The new carousel won’t simply celebrate conservation. It will practice conservation, making the Zoo a greener place. That’s thanks to Pepco Energy Services, which is donating solar panels that will power the carousel. Harnessing the power of the sun will lower both our operating costs and our carbon footprint. Thank you, Pepco Energy Services!

Other companies across America have sustained the Zoo as well. The Coca-Cola Foundation made a significant contribution to the construction of our new seals and sea lions exhibit. The Ford Motor Company Fund provided funds for addressing the Zoo’s strategic priorities. 454 Life Sciences donated a major piece of equipment for our genetics lab. Those are just a few key examples. Thank you, corporate benefactors!

A number of gifts have enabled us to keep the Zoo’s National Elephant Herpesvirus Laboratory up and running. Scientists at the lab study and seek to combat elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus, a leading killer of Asian elephants in human care. Major donors include the International Elephant Foundation, including Feld Entertainment/Ringling Bros. and Barum & Bailey Circus; MedImmune; the Oklahoma City Zoological Park; Stephen Hopkins Willard II; and the Woodland Park Zoological Society. Thank you, all!

I am delighted to announce a major new gift. David Rubenstein, a member of the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents, has given the Zoo $4.5 million to support our giant panda program. This generous donation will cover all aspects of caring for our beloved, black-and-white bears for the next five years and will support conservation efforts with our partners in China. In grateful recognition of his generosity, the panda exhibit will now be known as the David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat. Thank you, David!

Finally, there’s another important donor to thank—you. Through your membership in Friends of the National Zoo and your support of its events and enterprises, you contribute greatly to the work of the Zoo. You are a star shining in our dark fiscal sky, and I thank you!

Sincerely,
Dennis Kelly, Director
Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park