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How Friends of the National Zoo Began

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It started with just $50.

The date was April 10, 1958. For a few months prior, a group of D.C. residents had been meeting to talk about the state of their beloved Smithsonian's National Zoo. They wanted the grounds and the animals to thrive, and they wanted to connect people with wildlife and help preserve endangered species.

The group that met at the Cleveland Park Library that day was small, just about a dozen people, but that was enough to form Friends of the National Zoo. By October of that same year, Friends of the National Zoo already had about 400 members—and a drive for more. Over the next six decades, FONZ would continue to grow in membership numbers, scope and impact. 

Today, FONZ volunteers hold more than 1 million conversations with guests each year, sharing the Zoo’s education and conservation messages. The organization provides hundreds of thousands of dollars to support the conservation work of Smithsonian scientists happening here and around the world. And its camps and classes reached more than 10,000 children and adults last year.

Friends of the National Zoo has come a long way since its modest beginnings and, looking toward the future, plans to accomplish so much more.

"The planet needs us now more than ever. The planet needs passionate people who want to help save it to rise to the cause."
- Lynn Mento, FONZ Executive Director