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Smokey BearExhibit

Hours
8 a.m. - 5 p.m.
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Smokey Bear

Through spring 2020, visitors to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo can celebrate 75 years of preventing wildfires through this bilingual exhibit featuring the history of Smokey Bear.

Exhibit highlights include an iconic Smokey statue, vintage posters and photographs of the real Smokey Bear, who came to the Zoo as a cub and became one of its most famous residents.

Visitors can also learn about the innovative technology Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute scientists use to study how species interact with their environment and track how ecosystems respond to global changes—including wildfires.

This exhibit was made possible by the United States Department of Agriculture's Forest Service. Learn more at smokeybear.com.

History

Birth of a Legend

In 1944 the United States began a national wildfire prevention campaign to protect forest resources during World War II. The Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention Committee chose a powerful yet friendly bear to speak for the forests: Smokey Bear.

Posters show Smokey’s character through the decades, offering friendly tips on the proper way to extinguish campfires and advice on how to be a good steward of the environment. Several of the iconic Smokey posters, created by Forest Service artist Rudy Wendelin, helped shape the public identity of this beloved character.

  • Smokey Bear Posters from the 1940s, 50s and 60s
    Smokey Bear Posters from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s
  • Smokey Bear Posters from the 1970s
    Smokey Bear Posters from the 1970s
  • Smokey Bear posters from the 1980s
    Smokey Bear Posters from the 1980s
  • Modern-day Smokey Bear Posters
    Smokey Bear Posters from the 1990s to Today

The Real Smokey Bear

In 1950, a black bear cub was found clinging to a tree in Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico after a devastating forest fire. At the time, he was estimated to be about 3 months old. The cub was dubbed “Smokey Bear,” inspired by the Smokey Bear Wildfire Prevention campaign. After receiving treatment for wounds to his paws and hindquarters, Smokey was flown to Washington, D.C., where he became one of the most famous residents in the Zoo’s 130-year history. See the original press release of his arrival at the Zoo in the Smithsonian Archives.

As the campaign grew, Smokey Bear became a star and a must-see animal at the Zoo. Children sent the Zoo thousands of letters addressed to Smokey pledging their support for his junior rangers program. The volume of letters was so great, the United States issued Smokey Bear his own ZIP code—an honor bestowed only to him and the President of the United States. Although Smokey Bear the Zoo resident died in 1976, the character lives on through the campaign. His message—“Only You Can Prevent Wildfires”—is as relevant today as it was 75 years ago.

  • a tiny bear cub looks up at a Smokey Bear poster
  • a small bear cub is examined by a veterinarian in a white coat
  • a group of children and adults stand around a table with a bear cub on it
  • Smokey Bear the cub stands with a ranger in front of an airplane with the words "Smokey" painted on it
  • a man stands behind a bear cub wearing a ranger hat
  • a group of people stand around a podium with a banner behind it that says "Welcome, Smokey"

Restrooms are located at Kids' Farm, adjacent to the Conservation Pavilion.

American Trail is located along the same pathway. Check out seals, sea lions, gray wolves, beavers, otters, ravens, and bald eagles at this location.

The Speedwell Foundation Conservation Carousel features 58 animals on exhibit at the Zoo and also some species which are the focus of Zoo scientists’ research to save them from extinction. The carousel includes beloved animals including the giant panda, Komodo dragon, double-wattled cassowary and more.

The Great Cats Gift Shop is located across from the entrance to the Great Cats exhibit, adjacent to the black-tailed prairie dog exhibit. Check out all the wild plush animals, toys, games and souvenirs this shop has to offer.

The Mane Grill is located between Kids’ Farm and the restrooms. Check out the “Dining at the Zoo” section to view meal options.

The CTFS - ForestGEO Ecosystems and Climate Initiative at the Conservation Ecology Center (CEC) at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia, seeks to understand how global change is altering forests around the world and how changes to forest ecosystems will either mitigate or exacerbate climate change. 

CEC scientists also study climate change and how it may alter forests, fires and climate, specifically in the Klamath Forest region of California and Oregon. Anticipated increases in aridity are expected to alter the dynamics of wildfire and forest regeneration in this fire-prone forested landscape. In particular, there is concern that more frequent and severe fires and reduced rates of conifer regeneration could trigger widespread transitions from forest to shrubland. Learn more about the Climate Lab and ForestGeo.