Springtime at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute has arrived, and we are looking forward to warmer weather, longer days and many exciting events. On March 15, we transitioned to our summer hours schedule. Zoo grounds are open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., and animal buildings are open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
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 13 through 23, 2019). 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 11 entry points into the Zoo will soon be underway. The beautiful weather drives tens of thousands of people to the Zoo, and we have several exciting events and animal milestones to celebrate this season. Your constituents will want to mark these fun experiences on their calendars.
Throughout the year, the Zoo is shining a spotlight on creatures great and small during our Animal Discovery Day celebrations. We invite visitors to meet our amazing animals and their keepers, and to learn what makes these species special and unique. This spring, we invite your constituents to join us for Bear Day (April 4), World Otter Day (May 29) and World Oceans Day (June 8). 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.
We especially look forward to World Otter Day, as it is a great opportunity to celebrate our three North American river otter pups — the first born in the Zoo’s 130-year history! The 2.5-month-old pups are currently bonding with their mom, Ashkii, behind the scenes at American Trail. Keepers anticipate the otters will make their grand debut in the next few weeks. Information about the pups’ debut will be shared on the Zoo’s social media and in our e-newsletters as the date approaches.
In addition to Animal Discovery Days, renowned bird behaviorist Phung Luu will return to the Zoo select weekends in April to once again introduce zoogoers to owls, buzzards, falcons, macaws, parrots, ravens and more. Demonstrations, photo opportunities and hand-feedings take place April 6, 7, 13, 14, 21 and 28 from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Zoo’s Great Meadow.
In other animal news, we welcomed a new female Amur tiger, Nikita, to the Great Cats exhibit per a Species Survival Plan breeding recommendation with our male, Pavel; the naked mole-rat queen in Small Mammal House welcomed eight new jellybean-sized babies in early March; and, just outside the Small Mammal House, our first wallaby joey in 30 years peeked its head out of its mother’s pouch. Last but not least, our western lowland gorilla infant Moke will celebrate his first birthday with a fun party at the Great Ape House April 15!
As Easter Monday and Earth Day both fall on April 22 this year, our Easter Monday event coincides with Earth Optimism Day for double the fun. From 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., visitors are invited to enjoy egg hunts, live music, food trucks and games while discovering how they can help save species. This free event includes hands-on learning opportunities featuring special animal demonstrations, keeper talks, and meet and greets with scientists and conservation partners. Through interactive demonstrations, guests can discover how Zoo scientists are working to save species and the habitats that they rely on around the world.
On May 5, we are excited to once again welcome neighbors to celebrate community and diversity at our second annual International Family Equality Day celebration. 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 Zoo’s animals aren’t the only ones who will get to try some tasty treats. The best gourmet bites in Washington, D.C. will migrate to the Zoo May 16 for our annual fundraiser, ZooFari: Bite Night, hosted by Friends of the National Zoo. This fun evening is filled with delicious food and wine from the best restaurants and vintners in town. Proceeds from this ticketed 21-and-older event support the critical conservation work that takes place at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute and in more than 25 countries around the world.
Speaking of food, we are undergoing some major updates and improvements to dining locations throughout the Zoo that will be up-and-running for spring break. Sbarro will be bringing their New York style pizza to Panda Plaza; Auntie Anne’s pretzels and Carvel ice cream are coming to the Panda Overlook Café; and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream will set up shop at the Seal Rock Café on American Trail. In addition to these permanent locations, 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 will be stationed along Olmsted Walk to satiate hungry Zoo visitors, and we hope that our neighbors might enjoy a spring walk into the Zoo for lunch, a snack or dinner.
These events are a terrific way for our neighbors to enjoy all the animals and special programs at the Zoo this spring. Additional information on upcoming spring events, animal news and more can be found on our website. We will continue our commitment 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!