Summer has arrived and there are lots of changes, new residents and new opportunities at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo:
1. Three Dozen NEW Reptile Residents: The Zoo’s Reptile Discovery Center is brimming with new additions this summer, including false water cobras, leaf-tailed geckos, green tree monitors, fantastic geckos, Hamilton’s turtles, Caledonian giant geckos, spider tortoises, Timor pythons, spiny-headed tree frogs and more. The new residents give visitors the opportunity to see these striking animals while learning about their native homes and efforts to conserve them. The section about the global amphibian crisis highlights Zoo scientists’ work to save 20 priority rescue species of frogs in Panama.
2. Birds of Many Feathers…Flocking Together: The Bird House is boasting three new crane arrivals. A wattled crane chick, which hatched March 20, is on exhibit with its parents. Visitors can track the chick’s fast-paced transformation into a majestic white-plumaged crane with its distinctive wattle at its outdoor exhibit over the coming months. Nearby, a pair of Stanley cranes is fiercely protecting its downy-feathered crane chick, born May 23. The chick, a male, is the first for the pair and the result of an artificial insemination. (To check out video of the AI, go to the Zoo’s YouTube page.) And Rocky, a rare whooping crane, has arrived! There are only eight other zoos in the country that exhibit the indigenous crane. The Bird House also has new flamingo chicks and three rhea chicks (look for the chicks around the legs of the adult birds).
3. Seriously Smart Rats: The Zoo has new exhibits that will keep visitors’ brains from losing their elasticity over the summer. Think Tank now has three brown female brown rats scurrying around mazes and between enclosures through a tube pathway. Isabelle, Pandora and Mable display flexibility, which is the most important aspect of the definition of “thinking” presented in the Think Tank exhibit. “Visitors have the opportunity to be awestruck by rats and what makes them so successful,” said Lisa Stevens, the Zoo’s curator of primates. The rats’ ability to learn will guide them through mazes and help them navigate the tube pathway between enclosures. Visitors will also have the chance to test the flexibility of their own brains with an interactive memory test—the same test given to the Zoo’s orangutans.
4. Seeing New Stripes: A new Sumatran tiger, Damai, is now on the prowl at the Zoo. The 2-½-year-old tigress came from the San Diego Safari Park with a special recommendation from the Species Survival Plan for Sumatran tigers to breed. The Zoo plans to bring in a new male tiger to be her suitor, and if the two breed successfully, the Zoo hopes to be home to a litter of Sumatran tiger cubs in the next year. In a nearby yard, seven African lion juveniles are fast approaching their first birthdays. In the wild, the young lions would be weaned from their mothers by one year, and the mothers would once again come into estrus. The mothers, Shera and Naba, are now separated from father, Luke, to ensure the females do not breed again without an SSP recommendation. The three adults still have visual access to each other and visit at a “howdy” door. Visitors can see the youngsters on exhibit with Shera and Naba, or with Luke.
5. Adorable Otters: Mac and Smidge, the male and female Asian small-clawed otters, are the new power couple of Asia Trail. Keepers have observed breeding behaviors and remain hopeful that Smidge will have pups in the near future. A litter of pups would be a significant achievement for the Zoo, as zoos across the country with breeding pairs of Asian small-clawed otters have had difficulty producing pups.
6. Something to Hoot and Holler About: Two new howler monkeys at the Small Mammal House have made their presence known with their distinctive call in the mornings. The two have already demonstrated a bit of amorous behavior—which is great news because the Species Survival Plan for howler monkeys has recommended these two to breed. The best time to hear these two call is between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m.
7. Heat Wave Relief: With so much to see, visitors should not worry that a trip to the Zoo this summer will feel like a trek across the scorching African Savanna. The Zoo’s new and improved amenities can provide refuge. All of the animal houses are equipped with air conditioning. While walking along Olmsted Walk to see animals in their yards, visitors can operate misters to get refreshing relief from the heat--the new modifications are saving the Zoo 300,000 gallons of water a year! Visitors can also keep their stamina up with new food options, including bratwurst sandwiches and cold beer for adults 21 and older.
Visitors are encouraged to take public transportation to the National Zoo, but for those driving, it is recommended they arrive by 10 a.m., as parking lots fill up quickly during the spring and summer months. It is possible to reserve a parking space 48 hours in advance of a trip to the Zoo by calling Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ) Guest Services at (202) 633-4480 between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. If visitors choose to reserve a parking space there is a parking fee of $20 for FONZ members and $30 for nonmembers.