Smithsonian’s National Zoo Security and Spring Updates

This letter was sent to members of the Zoo Neighborhood Council by director Steve Monfort.

Spring is almost here, and the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute is looking forward to introducing new and seasoned visitors to our amazing animal ambassadors. Starting March 15, the Zoo will transition to our summer hours schedule. Grounds will be open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., and animal buildings will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Before I get to the exciting happenings around the park, I would like to address the steps we are taking to ensure the safety and security of the Zoo’s neighbors, visitors, staff and animals as we head into our busy season. On Feb. 10, I attended a Woodley Park Community Association (WPCA) meeting organized by councilmember Mary Cheh. Presenters—including myself—and WPCA members discussed safety and security at the Zoo following the Nov. 30, 2019, incident during ZooLights. The meeting yielded a productive discussion. I invite you to take a look at the minutes, which are posted in the Neighborhood News section of the Zoo’s website. Because the WPCA coincided timing-wise with what would have been our winter ZNC meeting, we decided to postpone our regular ZNC meeting until later this year. Meeting details will be forthcoming soon. However, if there are specific items you would like to discuss or call to our attention, please feel free to contact us directly.

With spring vacation season approaching, I’m taking this opportunity to update you on the safety and security plan we will implement during our busy Easter break visitation period. 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. As is our practice, we’ve coordinated with several security entities including Smithsonian Office of Protective Services, the Metropolitan Police Department, the U.S. Park Police and Metro Transit Police to ensure that our anticipated large crowds will be safely and securely managed.

As we have done over the past four years, temporary “access controls” will be implemented on high visitation days (April 4 through 19, 2020). Controlled access means the Zoo will conduct checks of bags, backpacks, personal items and strollers, as well as restrict the number of people entering the Zoo. These measures, which may vary by day and event, are similar to those procedures used by Smithsonian museums. Installation of temporary fencing to close some of the entry points into the Zoo will soon be underway. We have several exciting events and animal milestones to celebrate this season. Your constituents will want to mark these fun experiences on their calendars.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the Smithsonian will host the 2020 Earth Optimism Summit downtown Washington, D.C. Conservation luminaries from around the world will discuss what's working in conservation and how to apply those innovations to saving species and ecosystems for a healthier planet. I hope you will join us at the Summit April 23 through 25 to see the results of this seriously amazing science for yourself and understand why I'm optimistic about the future our planet.

This year’s Earth Optimism on Easter Monday celebration April 13 is a wonderful free event where visitors can enjoy egg hunts, live music, food trucks and games while discovering ways they can help save species. Included in this event are special animal demonstrations, keeper talks, and meet and greets with scientists and conservation partners. Through educational and interactive demonstrations, guests can learn more about our conservation work.

On May 3, we are excited to once again welcome neighbors to celebrate community and diversity at our third annual International Family Equality Day. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., visitors can enjoy live entertainment, participate in field games and watch animals enjoy a variety of rainbow-themed treats and other enrichment items. The following Saturday, we will also celebrate Wildlife Migration Day. This free event, taking place on May 9 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., features fun, hands-on activities for kids of all ages, as well as opportunities to talk to scientists who study wildlife migration.

For a truly memorable evening complete with the best gourmet bites in Washington, D.C,. join us May 20 for our annual fundraiser ZooFari, hosted by Friends of the National Zoo. Delicious food and wine, provided by the best restaurants and vintners in town, cap off an evening of great entertainment enchanting animal encounters.

I am pleased to share that the Mane Grill will be transformed into Elevation Burger just in time for spring break 2020. We will once again welcome a variety of local food trucks specializing in everything from BBQ, tacos and sweet and savory crêpes to grilled cheese sandwiches, gourmet popcorn and dumplings. These vendors will be stationed along Olmsted Walk to satiate hungry Zoo visitors. We hope that our neighbors might enjoy a spring walk into the Zoo for lunch, a snack or dinner.

Your support in spreading the word about new happenings around the Zoo is invaluable to helping our community of wildlife enthusiasts and conservationists grow. Additional information about new animals, events and dining options can be found on our website: We remain committed to doing all we can to make it a safe and welcoming space for all to enjoy. As always, we look forward to seeing you at the Zoo!