Are you a budding biologist, curious conservationist or animal lover who’s passionate about science and saving the planet? Designed for sixth-graders to under-grads, this sci-tacular day at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute includes hands-on activities, research demonstrations and mini-chats on hot topics in conservation. Career panel discussions with conservation biologists, field ecologists, research scientists, veterinarians and animal keepers will open doors and minds to the professional possibilities within the conservation field. Follow your passion to the Blue Ridge Mountains for inspiration and insight on how you can join the conservation ranks and make a difference for wildlife and habitats worldwide.
This is the one day this one-of-a-kind research facility located in scenic Front Royal, Virginia, is open to the public. SCBI is a large and hilly campus. Appropriate attire for outdoor activities and comfortable walking shoes are highly recommended. This event will be held rain or shine.
Test Your Conservationist Skills
Find out what it takes to be a conservationist from the Center for Conservation and Sustainability team.
- Listen to recordings from the Amazon rainforest and decipher which sounds are from animals and which are manmade
- Study video from tree cameras and learn how conservationists use these images to promote eco-friendly development
- Understand what landscape mapping is and how it helps shape conservation decisions
- Play the part of a conservationist in the Amazon rainforest and decide how to proceed when an oil rig is set to be built in this sensitive region
Experience one of the main methods that Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center scientists use to study birds: bird banding!
- Learn first-hand how scientists attach bands and what information branding provides
- Observe wild birds up close
- Discover how humans influence ecosystems in ways that help and hurt bird populations
One Health: Humans and Wildlife
The Smithsonian’s Global Health Program employs wildlife veterinarians, pathologists, biologists, research associates and technicians to address wildlife health concerns, investigate diseases that can infect both humans and animals and conduct international training programs.
- Dress for “field scientist” success at a photo booth using an array of props, such as lamps, traps, gloves, nets, Tyvek suits and more.
- Check out a “bat cave” and discover what it is like to be a field scientist studying bats and bat diseases. Learn fun facts while wearing headlamps and searching the cave for the answers to bat trivia.
- Put on virtual reality glasses and experience the landscape of Myanmar. A veterinarian who works in Myanmar will be on hand to answer questions about Global Health’s current projects.
Wildlife Endocrinology: Unlocking Animal Hormones
The Endocrinology Research Laboratory at SCBI is the oldest and largest wildlife endocrinology lab in the world.
- Learn about endocrinology and how it can be a useful tool in wildlife conservation
- Learn how scientists study hormones of different species to help evaluate the health and breeding window of an animal
Bird ID Workshop
Virginia Working Landscapes is committed to the conservation of native biodiversity and sustainable land use through research, education and community engagement.
- Participate in a bird ID workshop to learn how to identify different species
- Test bird identification skills and fill in a data sheet of birds spotted at special stations around the event. Those who complete the workshop will win a prize!
The Doctor Is In: Wildlife Veterinarians
Meet the vets who are committed to saving species at SCBI and beyond!
- Learn how veterinarians at SCBI care for more than 20 different species
- Go behind the scenes at the vet hospital to see where and how SCBI vets help animals
Dynamite DNA: What Animals' Genomes Tell Us
For more than 20 years, the Smithsonian’s Center for Conservation Genomics has helped elusive and endangered species like tigers, Asian and African elephants, San Joaquin kit foxes and maned wolves by studying their genomes.
- Learn how an animal’s genomes can help scientists identify appropriate conservation methods, while providing data on an animal's sex, mating patterns and relationships
- Get the chance to “perform” a DNA extraction and test
- Participate in interactive demos and discussions with scientists
Freezing for the Future: Smithsonian Frozen Collections
Scientists working with the Smithsonian's cryo-collections have the COOLest job!
- Find out what cryopreservation is and how it's saving species
- Participate in games and interact with scientists to learn how, why and what these scientists freeze and reanimate living cells
The Life of a Meadow
SCBI scientists and staff are always working to improve the environment, and that includes plants too!
- Learn how staff manage invasive plants
- Discover how native plants benefit birds, small mammals, pollinators and other fauna
Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation: Help Save the Planet!
The Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation offers interdisciplinary programs in conservation biology for undergraduate and graduate students and professionals.
- Learn how SMSC students play an active role in sustaining biodiversity and promoting conservation
- Learn about and engage in radio telemetry practice, insect specimen prep, native bee habitat construction and a GPS/orienteering scavenger hunt
Remount History: Photos and Artifacts
The land that is now home to the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute has a long history. First owned by the U.S. Army, what is now SCBI was once a Quartermaster Remount Depot, a “Dogs for Defense” training installation, a beef cattle research station and a Cold War doomsday “go-to” site.
Learn how Center for Tropical Forest Science-ForestGEO Ecosystem Climate Initiative scientists measure trees and survey insects to assess the health of a forest.
- Practice field work on tree mortality and participate in an insect survey
- Watch a demonstration of an ecosystem services calculator
GIS Lab: Wildlife Mapping
SCBI researchers and scientists use geographic information systems (GIS) mapping to help save species across the globe.
- Try your hand at a computer-based exercise of forest mapping using satellite images.
- Borrow one of the lab’s GPS devices to go on a scavenger hunt in the field
Conservation Career Panels
Career panel discussions with conservation biologists, nutritionists, field ecologists, research scientists, veterinarians and animal keepers will open doors and minds to the professional possibilities within the conservation field.
Caught on Camera: Wildlife Monitoring Booth
SCBI scientists use camera traps around the world to survey animal life.
- Head out into the field to learn to set up a camera trap grid
Saving Endangered Species: What Does it Take?
SCBI is home to endangered maned wolves, and scientists are actively studying their reproduction and behavior to bring this species back from the brink.
- Get up close to a wolf skull and see a camera trap used in the field
- Learn about current research on maned wolves and other canid species
Nearly half of all crane species are threatened or endangered. As all cranes form lifelong monogamous pairs, crane reproduction is crucial to crane conservation.
- Learn about breeding and assisted reproduction techniques
- Observe videos of courtship behaviors
- View samples with a microscope
Brown kiwis, flightless nocturnal birds, are native to New Zealand and are endangered due to non-native predators introduced by humans. In 1975, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo became the first organization to hatch a brown kiwi outside of New Zealand. SCBI has hatched six kiwi eggs since 2012.
- See life-size models of kiwi adults and chicks as well as a kiwi skeleton with an egg
- Watch video of various kiwi research, kiwi in the wild and kiwi hatching
Ungulates, or hoof stock, such as dama gazelles and scimitar-horned oryx, are some of the most endangered species on the planet—and they all live at SCBI!
- Watch videos of SCBI animals and enjoy games and hands-on learning experiences
The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) plays a leading role in the Smithsonian’s global efforts to save wildlife species from extinction and train future generations of conservationists. SCBI spearheads research programs at its headquarters in Front Royal, Virginia, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and at field research stations and training sites worldwide. SCBI scientists tackle some of today’s most complex conservation challenges by applying and sharing what they learn about animal behavior and reproduction, ecology, genetics, migration and conservation sustainability.SCBI scientists study and breed more than 20 species at their headquarters, including those that were once extinct in the wild, like black-footed ferrets and scimitar-horned oryx. Its major research initiatives are organized into six science centers: Conservation Ecology, Conservation and Sustainability, Conservation Genomics, Migratory Birds, and Species Survival. Other initiatives include the Global Tiger Initiative, Virginia Working Landscapes, and the Global Health Program. Their work doesn’t stop at the gates of SCBI. Approximately 250 SCBI scientists and students collaborate with colleagues in more than 25 countries.
Since its founding in 1974, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, has celebrated many milestones, from endangered species births, to reintroductions to the wild, to revolutionary scientific studies. During the 1970s, SCBI welcomed the first of many mammal and bird births at its facility, including red pandas, clouded leopards, onagers, Guam rails, white-naped cranes and Micronesian kingfishers.
In the mid-1980s SCBI scientists developed the basis for breeding animals in human care to preserve as much genetic diversity as possible. In 1991 the first black-footed ferret kits born at SCBI were returned to the wild. The black-footed ferret reintroduction program continues today, as do many other reintroduction efforts.
In 1995, Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute scientists were the first to discover the lethal elephant endotheliotropic herpes virus (EEHV) which affects both wild and zoo elephants. And in 1999, scientists helped discover the chytrid fungus, a lethal fungus responsible for massive global amphibian declines.
Since 2006, SCBI scientists have cryopreserved eggs and sperm from coral species around the world, and helped establish the first genome repository for Great Barrier Reef coral in 2011. In 2010, the Zoo became the first zoo or aquarium to successfully grow two species of anemones.
On land, SCBI launched Virginia Working Landscapes to preserve native biodiversity and encourage the sustainable use of working landscapes in 2009. The following year, SCBI became one of the first land-based participants in the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) in the U.S., collecting data on various environmental factors.
SCBI researchers have worked with many partners to save species and their habitats. SCBI particularly has focused on training the next generation of conservationists. In 2008, the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation was established at SCBI headquarters in Front Royal, Virginia, enabling undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctoral students to study with SCBI scientists and George Mason University professors. The Cornell-Smithsonian Joint Graduate Training Program, which has been accepting applications since 2011, allows students to benefit from the dual mentorship of a Cornell faculty member and an SCBI scientist. The program’s very first student produced the first domestic puppies from in vitro fertilization in 2015, solving some of the mystery of canid reproduction.
From the East (Washington, D.C. area)
- Take I-66 to the Linden/Route 55 exit (Exit 13)
- Turn left at the bottom of the exit ramp
- Turn right at the first stop light onto VA-55 West and go about five miles
- Turn left at the first traffic light onto US-522 South/Remount Road
- The main gate to SCBI Front Royal will be on your left in about two miles
- Turn left into SCBI Front Royal
From the West (Winchester/Strasburg, Virginia)
- Take I-81 to I-66
- Take the Front Royal/US-522 exit (Exit 6)
- Turn right at the end of the ramp and follow US-522 South/Remount Road through Front Royal and for about two miles south of town
- Turn left into SCBI Front Royal
There are no individual tickets for Conservation Discovery Day attendance. Pricing, as follows, is based on vehicle size. Tickets are on sale now.
Friends of the National Zoo members at the Council or Circle level, as well as members of the SCBI Club, can claim a complimentary car pass by logging into the website and choosing the $0 member option.
School Bus/Chartered Bus Pass: $100
Small School Bus/Van Pass: $50
Standard Car Pass: $30