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Celebrating 60 Years

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Celebrating 60 Years


Concerned Washingtonians form Friends of the National Zoo to raise funds for much-needed repairs.

Retired Zoo Director Willliam Mann donates $50 and becomes the first FONZ member.


FONZ begins its first behavior watch program, then known as "preg watch," for the birth of a baby black rhino.

FONZ funds one of the Zoo's first conservation projects, conducting field studies of elephants in Sri Lanka. The $5,000 gift was a significant contribution for FONZ donors at the time.


FONZ helps fund the Zoo’s first program to release captive-born endangered golden lion tamarins into their native rainforests in Brazil.


FONZ is instrumental in negotiating and securing 3,150 acres of pastures, in Front Royal, Va.—now known as the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. Over the years, SCBI has trained 4,000 wildlife and conservation professionals from 60 countries.

FONZ makes its first research and education grant to the Zoo: $30,000.


FONZ host its first fundraising event: ZooFari. ZooFari’s success encourages FONZ to create a full calendar of fundraising festivities to benefit the Zoo.


Once believed to be extinct, black-footed ferrets are released back into the North American Great Plains, thanks in large part to SCBI’s cutting-edge science supported by FONZ.


FONZ hits a fundraising milestone, providing $2.1 million in services and funds to the Zoo—$500,000 was earmarked for conservation studies.


FONZ launches a major campaign to fund the new giant panda conservation exhibit and secure the arrival of Mei Xiang and Tian Tian. Thanks to the FONZ partnership with Fujifilm, the campaign raises more than $13 million.


Kandula, a male Asian elephant, is born as a result of artificial insemination, a process perfected by Smithsonian research and partially funded by FONZ.


The first annual ZooLights is made possible as a result of FONZ’s partnership with Pepco. The event has become a D.C.-area tradition.


FONZ helps keep Kids’ Farm open. FONZ members were integral to organizing fundraising events and securing long-term funding, including a $1 million sponsorship.


FONZ brings the first large-scale art exhibit to the Zoo, Washed Ashore, helping educate hundreds of thousands of visitors on the negative effects of ocean trash.


FONZ launches Conservation Nation, a new initiative to support Smithsonian conservation projects in the wild.


Friends of the National Zoo started 60 years ago with a $50 check, just a small group of D.C. residents that saw tremendous value in the Smithsonian's National Zoo and wanted to help it thrive.

With your passion, resources, energy, and love of wildlife, Friends of the National Zoo has been able to grow. Our volunteers and education programs continue to inspire the next generation of conservationists; we’re always striving to find new opportunities to fund conservation projects undertaken by Smithsonian scientists.

We Couldn't Have Made It This Far Without You!

FONZ Stories

Apr. 20, 2020
Each year, more than 1,400 volunteers donate over 90,000 hours of their time to the Smithsonian's...
Mar. 02, 2018
Since their arrival at the Smithsonian's National Zoo in 2000, giant pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian...
Feb. 20, 2018
This year, Friends of the National Zoo is celebrating its 60th anniversary. We couldn't have made...

Share Your Memory

We invite you to share your favorite Zoo memories in celebration of our 60th anniversary. We've enjoyed reading your stories, and we'd like to hear more. We'll feature some of your stories below.

Share Your Story

Support FONZ

For decades, FONZ has helped the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute save species.

Your Stories

Browse through our member-submitted stories!

Abigail's Story

This picture of my dad and me at the zoo in 1969 at age 1 makes me smile for so many reasons. Of course my Dad looks cool in his hipster glasses, wheeling me around half naked (hey, we all know how hot it gets in DC in the summer) but also the two things that haven't been part of zoo culture in years: the archaic rental stroller—watch those toes!—and zoo balloons, from before they realized that balloons that popped and fell into animal enclosures might not be so healthy.


John and Jenn's Story

Remember that time we went to the Zoo and... I asked Jenn to marry me at Zoo Lights 2016, and she said yes! We love the National Zoo - so much so that we moved in next door in 2014. It has always been a special place for us, and there was nowhere more perfect to get engaged. John proposed right by his family's tile in the big cats circle. We continue to visit all the time, and we love seeing the animals grow up and the wonderful work that the zoo staff does for their animals and species all over the world.

John Charin

Debbie's Story

Our family had a FONZ membership for many years until the kids school and extracurricular activities took over our schedules. We included family and friends in our many visits to the zoo, and especially enjoyed Zoo Night.

Now that our kids are 36 and 33 respectively, and we have young grandchildren, we've recently rejoined FONZ and are looking forward to more frequent visits again.

My husband and I have, over the last several years, been making scrapbooks for our adult children. I'm attaching photos of the pages dedicated to Zoo Night, from about 1984-1992.

Debra Grimes, Fairfax Station, VA