Smithsonian's National Zoo and FONZ to Part Ways

The following message was sent to members of the Zoo Neighborhood Council (ZNC) Feb. 4, 2021. 

We write to inform you of the news that the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and the Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ), an independent nonprofit organization, are dissolving their 63-year partnership. FONZ has been our valued partner. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has had continued financial impacts on both FONZ and the National Zoo, which required a re-assessment of the longstanding relationship. 

Both organizations are committed to a seamless transition of the responsibilities FONZ has held for Zoo visitors and members. Transitioning at this time will enable both the Zoo and FONZ to directly oversee mission-critical aspects of their work and sustain the financial health of their organizations during these challenging times as we continue to endure the financial impact of the pandemic and, for the Zoo, a prolonged public closure.  

We have created a new Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute membership and will follow-up with more details on that soon. The Zoo will honor current FONZ memberships without interruption. We will sustain existing member benefits and create new offerings for prospective members interested in the Zoo, as well as the wider Smithsonian.

We want to assure you that we will meet the significant challenges that this change entails, but we know there will be many questions. As the information becomes available Pamela will reach out with updates, and please don’t hesitate to reach out to us meantime at

You may also be wondering when we will reopen. The pandemic dictates when we will be able to do so safely, but I can tell you that the Zoo will be one of the first to reopen, as we were last summer. I am hopeful and staff are preparing to welcome visitors back this Spring.

As always, thank you in advance for your support.


Steve Monfort, John and Adrienne Mars Director, Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute

Pamela Baker-Masson, Associate Director, Communications and Exhibits