The American Trail provides a new home for seals, sea lions, and brown pelicans in an enriching environment modeled on the central California coast. There are wave machines to keep the water moving, giving the marine mammals a chance to swim within a changing environment. Underwater features in the sea lion pool provide interesting places for the animals to explore.
The exhibition provides a multisensory experience that re-creates the smells, sounds, look, and feel of the California coast and explores the delicate balance between human actions and the health of our coastlines. The exhibit and facilities are constructed using sustainable practices—in the spirit of the exhibition's conservation messages.
Also on view along the American Trail are bald eagles, gray wolves, North American river otters, beavers, and ravens.
The Inside Story: Radiography
Small Mammal House
Radiographs and bones on view reveal the relationship between body structure and the behaviour of animals. See these interesting X-rays to learn how animals move, eat, and play. Sections include:
- The Tale of the Tail explores rodent tails.
- The Story of Skulls reveals different structures in animals that bite, gnaw, and slurp.
- Mammal Moves demonstrates how an animal's shape determines how it moves.
- Seeing through Mysteries challenges you to figure out what the images depict!
As part of the Zoo's campaign to save Asian elephants, this expanded and transformed home for the Zoo's Asian elephants features a variety of habitats that support the natural behavior of the multi-generational herd. The entire habitat provides more than 4 acres of indoor and outdoor space and has the capacity to accommodate a natural, matriarchal herd and individual bulls—between 8 and 10 elephants and their young—with suites for individual elephants.
- Two new outdoor yards, with almost two acres of varied terrain, offer shade structures, heaters, and a pool.
- The Elephant Trek is a quarter-mile walking path to provide the elephants with exercise and foraging opportunities
- A new Elephant Barn with soft flooring replaces the old Elephant House as the primary living space for the Zoo's elephants Kandula (born in 2001), his mother Shanthi, and another female named Ambika.
- The Elephant Community Center (opened March 23, 2013, in the old Elephant House) offers visitors the opportunity to observe the elephants socializing throughout the year and to learn how the Zoo's keepers, vets, scientists, and other animal care staff provide world-class care.
- The Homer and Martha Gudelsky Elephant Outpost, an open courtyard, features interactive exhibits that bring to life the challenges facing Asian elephants in the wild, a range map, three life-size "willow" elephant sculptures, and vistas for viewing the elephants in their outdoor habitats.
This exhibition features Asian animals already living at the Zoo—sloth bears, fishing cats, Asian small-clawed otters (including an 11-member family group), a Japanese giant salamander, and red pandas—along with the clouded leopards (returning to the Zoo after several decades). Also featured are the beloved giant pandas (see separate listing).
The Trail incorporates enrichment activities that stimulate the animals' natural behaviors, including fabricated termite mounds where sloth bears can forage for insects, cut-away views of pools where fishing cats can hunt, nest boxes where red pandas can raise their young, and a glass-fronted pool where visitors can observe Asian small-clawed otters underwater. The exhibition also highlights the Zoo's research and conservation work and features the following:
- Decision stations: Here visitors can explore the complex conservation issues facing endangered species through touch-screen, interactive kiosks.
- Curiosity stations: Here visitors can learn about the native habitats of the species that live along the trail through hands-on exhibits.
- Researchers at Work stations: Here visitors can learn about the Zoo's efforts to preserve these animals and their habitats in the wild through videos and graphics.
Giant Panda Habitat, David M. Rubenstein Family
The Giant Panda House is closed until further notice to give Mei Xiang quiet time to bond with her new cub. In the meantime, watch Mei and her cub on the Zoo's panda cam. Visitors can see Tian Tian when he is outdoors.
Giant pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian can be seen in their habitat wrestling in the grass, sleeping in a tree, munching on stalks of bamboo, or lounging in a misty grotto.
Features included in the 2006 renovation/expansion:
- An expanded outdoor area, 4 yards, and 4 dens.
- Conservation Plaza provides information on ongoing efforts to save the pandas and their habitats; it features a large-scale topographic map and interactive touch-screen kiosks.
- Experience Zone includes some of the features of the panda yard, including cooling rocks, a panda grotto, and foggers to mimic the environment in their native habitat.
- Research Center (in the indoor exhibit area) provides information on panda research at the zoo and the panda's life cycle and biology.
- A new Giant Panda Cooperative Research and Breeding Agreement was signed in January 2011, extending the Zoo’s giant panda program for five more years.
- The pandas may be resting indoors during warm-weather months.
Prairie Dog Playland
Near Prairie Dogs and Lemur Island
This prairie-dog-themed playground, designed for children ages 2-6, reveals a prairie-dog's perspective on survival. Children can crawl through a series of tubes that resemble prairie dogs' underground tunnels, can pop up "above ground," and can look through scopes to scan for large cutouts of such predators as black-footed ferrets and hawks.
Near Rock Creek entrance
This child-friendly exhibition reveals that most of the food we eat comes from a farm and allows visitors to lend a hand around the farm.
- A Play Area, featuring an oversize, climb-on pizza that connects familiar pizza ingredients with plants grown on a farm. The pizza garden includes tomatoes, herbs, garlic, onions, green peppers, and wheat. Note: Open weather permitting.
- The Barn gives visitors a view into how animals are housed and cared for.
- Goat and Miniature Donkey Yards, where visitors are able to touch the animals through the fence. The area also includes a Caring Corral, where children are invited inside to help take care of the animals.
- The Cow Pasture, where visitors are able to touch the animals when they approach the fence.
Lemur Island (formerly Monkey Island)
This open-air exhibition is home to both ring-tailed (Lemur catta) and red-fronted (Eulemur fulvus rufus) lemurs. These prosimians—a suborder of primates—are found only on Madagascar, an island in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa. Today's prosimians retain much of the appearance of the earliest primates. Like many other animal species, wild lemur populations are rapidly declining due to extensive habitat loss.
Great Cats: Lions and Tigers
Lion & Tiger Hill and surrounding area
See living, breathing, roaring Sumatran tigers and African lions and learn more about these endangered animals. Here, great cats lounge in the shade under towering scarlet and red oaks and Himalayan pines, hide in the scattered bamboo thickets, rest in the shelter of dens built into the terraced hills, and patrol their territorial boundaries along the edges of the ponds. Features also include:
- Tiger Tracks, an interpretive trail, allows children to compare their weight to those of various cats and to species of prey; play interactive tiger cub games; and examine life-size models of a tiger's skull, tongue, and paws.
- A machan—an elevated, enclosed platform—allows visitors to watch the lions and tigers patrol their Zoo territory.
- An area featuring a bronzed Tyrannosaurus rex skull from the Museum of the Rockies.
Explore new graphics and interactives installed summer 2011:
- Graphics interpret aspects of lions’ and tigers’ behavior at the Zoo and in the wild.
- Cat Scan allows visitors to see inside the great cats to learn more about their biology.
- Main Street shows how actions visitors take in their daily lives help conserve these endangered animals.
In Invertebrate Exhibit
Living plants, butterflies, and bees are used to explore pollination—the means of plant reproduction. The evolution, beauty, and mechanics of pollination are examined. The exhibition also includes a 7-foot tall, 3-panel, glass enclosed beehive.
Olmsted Walk, near Reptile Discovery Center
This exhibition explores the biology and evolution of animal thinking, focusing on primates. It also demonstrates how animals use tools, send sophisticated messages, and employ social strategies. In conjunction with this exhibition is the O-Line, an orangutan transit system for orangutans to travel from the Great Ape House to Think Tank. Beginning April 15, 2011, play tug-of-war with an orang utan or watch the orangs turn a shower on themselves...or on visitors!
Also beginning April 15, 2011, learn about rats up close at a new exhibition inside Think Tank. Watch them run mazes and learn about their amazing biology and behavior.
Animals and plants of the New World are included in this rain forest habitat featuring a re-created microcosm of the world's largest rain forest and the Amazon River. This living tropical forest features more than 350 species of plants, including 50-foot-tall trees, tropical vines, and epiphytes. It is also home to dozens of species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insects typical of the Amazon Basin. Giant Amazon fish are a special feature.
• Amazonia Science Gallery
This section showcases biodiversity and the work of Smithsonian scientists. It features a nutrition laboratory, Science On a Sphere, Amphibian Alert! and wildlife toxicology exhibits:
- Science On a Sphere (SOS) uses computers and video projectors to display planetary data onto a six-foot diameter sphere, analogous to a giant animated globe. It provides information on global climate change, weather patterns, animal migration, and many other topics.
- Amphibian Alert! highlights the efforts of Smithsonian scientists to understand and conserve amphibians. The exhibit features 18 species of frogs, and information on threats to the survival of amphibian species around the world due to disease (chytridiomycosis), habitat loss, and other factors.
Cheetah Conservation Station
Olmsted Walk, past Visitor Center on the left
At the Cheetah Conservation Station, cheetahs can be seen engaged in natural behaviors in a grassland setting similar to their natural savanna habitat—roaming through their habitat or sunning themselves on the gentle slopes—giving visitors a chance to closely observe these highly endangered cats.
Gibbon Ridge, situated among tall trees near the Great Apes House, is home to three groups of white-cheeked gibbons—famous for their wild acrobatics and resounding calls—and a group of siamangs.
Olmsted Walk, Reptile House, Lower Level
Invertebrates—creatures without backbones—are the most abundant creatures on earth, crawling, flying, floating, or swimming in virtually all of Earth's habitats. About 99% of all known living species are invertebrates. This exhibition is home to such invertebrate species as sea stars; spiny lobsters; sea anemones; corals; insects; spiders, including tarantulas; mollusks; and giant Pacific octopuses named Octavius and Pandora.
• Blue Crab and the Chesapeake Bay
This section higlights the biology and ecology of the blue crab (Callinectes sapidus), focusing on its life cycles and its environment in the Chesapeake Bay. Topics discussed include how blue crabs take advantage of a diversity of habitats in the Bay during different stages of their life cycles, how crab populations reflect the overall health of the Bay—crab populations decrease as pollution levels increase; and how our everyday actions affect the blue crab and the entire Chesapeake Bay ecosystem.
Small Mammal House
Olmsted Walk, near Great Ape House
Most species in the Zoo's Small Mammal House are no bigger than a breadbox. The exhibition features the golden lion tamarin, the three-banded armadillo, the prehensile-tailed porcupine, naked mole-rats, tree shrews, meerkats, black-tailed prairie dogs, black-footed ferrets, and more.
Great Ape House
Today, this exhibition is home to seven western lowland gorillas and six orangutans, which may be seen outside in the yard or inside the Great Ape House. The orangutans have access to the Think Tank by using the aboveground O Line; for details, see Think Tank.
The exhibition was designed to encourage physical activity and normal social interaction within each group. Features include 8 spacious, glass-fronted indoor areas, 2-3 stories high, equipped with floor-to-ceiling climbing structures; large outdoor areas with dry moats confining animals without visual obstructions; and interpretive graphics.
Outdoor Sculptures: The Gathering, Lions, and Uncle Beazley
Near entrance and within the Zoo
• The Gathering: A group of 7 life-size chimpanzee sculptures by Maryland artist Brad Walker was installed in a garden near Think Tank June 18, 2002. Each sculpture depicts a chimpanzee fulfilling a different social role within the troup: matriarch, servant, observer, alpha, ally, explorer, and youth.
• The Taft Bridge Lion Sculptures: The original two lion sculptures—cast in concrete—that graced the Taft Bridge, south of the Zoo on Connecticut Ave., were created in 1906 by Roland Perry. After 90 years of being exposed to the elements, they were recast in concrete and covered in bronze—one-third scale of the original lions—by artist Reinaldo Lopez-Carrizo and were unveiled Nov. 19, 2002.
• Uncle Beazley: Uncle Beazley, the 25-foot-long fiberglass replica of a Triceratops, returned to view in a "dinosaur garden" near Lemur Islandon May 23, 2007. He had resided at the Elephant House since June 18, 1994, but was off view for several years. Before coming to the Zoo, Uncle Beasley inhabited the Mall outside the Natural History Museum. This statue of Uncle Beazley was designed by Louis Paul Jonas for a television show based on the book The Enormous Egg; the show was filmed in part at the National Zoo.
Bird House and the Outdoor Flight Exhibit
The National Zoo is home to hundreds of birds from all over the world. Since birds are an integral part of virtually every ecosystem, it's not surprising that birds are all over the Zoo, too, as residents and visitors.
- Outdoor Flight Exhibit: Open year round, the large flight cage, 90 feet high and 120 feet in diameter, allows birds to fly freely. It features numerous North and South American birds, such as cormorants, hooded mergansers, green-winged teals, cattle egret, little blue heron, Hamerkop, white-faced ibis, Mandarin duck, and wood ducks.
- Bird House: The widest variety of birds at the Zoo live indoors at the Bird House where a series of smaller exhibits encircle a large indoor jungle complete with free-flying tropical birds. Outside the Bird House are a number of other fascinating and large bird species, including a flock of flamingos.
Near Bird House
On view are six ponds—five different "environments" and a "courtship" pond—where local birds and plants common to wetlands are on view. Raised walkways meander among the ponds allowing visitors viewing access to the areas. Although no captive birds inhabit this area, it is a nice place to birdwatch. Colorful mallards and wood ducks often swim on the ponds and black-crowned night-herons can often be seen stalking the shallows.
New Animals at the Zoo
Throughout the Zoo
Visit some of the newest members of the Zoo family:
- Bozie, a 37-year-old female Asian elephant, arrived May 22, 2013; she makes her Washington debut June 27, 2013
- Sloth bear cub Hank, born December, made his public debut June 20, 2013
- A black howler monkey born December 15, 2012, at the Small Mammal House
- Two Dama gazelles: A male born September 4, 2012, and a female born October 13, 2012
- Roseate spoonbill chicks, born June 2012
- Scarlet ibis chick, born June 2012
- Two fishing cat kittens, born May 18, 2012
- Two cheetah cubs, born April 23, 2012, at the Zoo's Conservation Biology Institute
Reptile Discovery Center
The Reptile Discovery Center is an interactive, educational exhibition designed for visitors to explore the biology of reptiles and amphibians. The Center features some 70 species from snakes to frogs to turtles to lizards to crocodiles to Komodo dragons.
Unlike most of the Zoo's other animals, most of the inhabitants of the Reptile Discovery Center won't be found outside during the wintertime. This is because ectothermic (previously referred to as "cold-blooded") creatures rely on the temperature of their surrounding environment to maintain their body temperature; they cannot withstand the cold, wintry weather that endothermic (previously referred to as "warm-blooded") animals can.