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Fall 2019 Community Newsletter

  • two-toed sloth clinging to a tree branch
This newsletter was sent to the Zoo's surrounding community and neighbors on Sept. 25, 2019.

As the summer concludes, we are looking forward to cooler weather, fall foliage and more exciting events at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. We welcomed many new animals over the past three months, including Karoline, an Abyssinian ground hornbill, at Cheetah Conservation Station; Kingston, a white-eared titi monkey, at Amazonia; Willow, a Hereford calf, at the Kids’ Farm; and a trio of Home’s hinge-back tortoises at the Reptile Discovery Center. Sea lion Calli also gave birth to a new pup at the end of June. The pup has access to both the exhibit and the behind-the-scenes area of the sea lion habitat, so we invite your constituents to visit and watch the pup swim, porpoise and dive.

As you may have seen in the news, the Zoo’s giant panda team recently confirmed that our female giant panda, Mei Xiang, is not pregnant. Both she and our adult male, Tian Tian, will remain at the Zoo through Dec. 7, 2020, per our Giant Panda Cooperative Research and Breeding Agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association. Their son, Bei Bei, turned 4 years old in August. Per that agreement, he will move to China sometime in the coming months. Prior to his departure, there will be a weeklong celebration both at the Zoo and on the Zoo’s website; as details are solidified, they will be announced on our website and social media channels.

Last but not least, our Asia Trail team welcomed two young clouded leopard cubs named Jillian and Paitoon under their care. Over the past two weeks, it’s been great fun watching them explore their new surroundings. They spend much of their time climbing and chasing one another, much to the delight of our visitors and volunteer interpreters. While Jilian and Paitoon acclimate to their exhibit, keepers tell me the best time to see them on exhibit is between 10:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.

SCBI is hosting Conservation Discovery Day on Saturday, Oct. 5. Designed for sixth-graders to under-grads, this event includes hands-on activities, research demonstrations and career panel discussions with our scientists and animal care staff. This is the perfect event for budding biologists and curious conservationists!

Don’t miss your chance to visit some of your favorite animals after-hours at Boo at the Zoo, a frightfully fun evening of not-so-spooky Halloween fun for the whole family from Oct. 18 to 20. Our annual adults-only party, Night of the Living Zoo, follows on Oct. 25. 

Throughout the year, the Zoo is shining a spotlight on creatures great and small during our free Animal Discovery Day celebrations. This fall, we invite your constituents to join us for Sloth Day (Oct. 20), Orangutan Caring Day (Nov. 14) and International Cheetah Day (Dec. 4). From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on these days, there will be extra keeper talks and animal demonstrations, as well as plenty of family-friendly activities and opportunities to lean about wildlife conservation.

As we head into the holiday season, the D.C.-area’s favorite free light festival—ZooLights, powered by Pepco—will once again illuminate the Zoo. From Nov. 29 through Jan. 1, 2019 (except Dec. 24, 25 and 31), over half-a-million brightly colored environmentally friendly LED lights and animal-shaped displays will transform the Zoo’s trees, walkways and buildings into a dynamic and colorful winter wonderland. We look forward to hosting our third-annual GRUMP holiday market featuring the work of local artisans Dec. 6, 7 and 8. 

To help alleviate traffic during these fall and winter evening events, free Big Bus Tours will transport guests from the Woodley Park Metro Station to the Panda Plaza Bus Lot on a continuous loop. During ZooLights, Big Bus Tours will offer free shuttle rides on Saturdays, and the DC Circulator Bus will run Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. DC Circulator Bus rides will cost $1 each way. As the schedules for each event vary, we invite your constituents to check the Zoo’s website to confirm the busses’ hours of operation so they can best plan their visit.

On Sept. 4, 2019, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo held its inaugural meeting with the Zoo Neighborhood Council (ZNC). The ZNC provides a clear and consistent forum for the Zoo to share relevant news, upcoming events and operations with local community leaders and stakeholders. These meetings serve as a soundboard where all parties can pinpoint areas that need improvement and work together to address those areas. We had a lively and productive discussion on a range of topics, including parking, Zoo perimeter fencing and visitor entry points; public transportation and ride shares; pedestrian/vehicle traffic during events; and bike path repair, among others.  I invite you to view the minutes of our first meeting in the Community News section of the Zoo’s website.

It’s important to me, and the Smithsonian, that our neighbors understand the priority we place on the safety and well-being for our visitors, staff, community and animals. To that end, you will see in the Community News minutes mentioned above that blue light emergency stations have been installed throughout the Zoo grounds. They are outfitted with speakers, intercoms, cameras and lights to issue emergency announcements. Testing of this mass notification system occurred the morning of Sept. 17 and went well.

We remain committed to open lines of communications with our neighbors. If you would like to submit feedback, please email You can also stay up-to-date on all the latest animal news and events by signing up for Zoo e-newsletters and following us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. As always, we look forward to seeing you at the Zoo!