The Smithsonian National Zoo has quickly become one of my favorite places to hang out in DC. It's also located close to my apartment, so I've added an extra touch of wild to my evening autumn runs through the city. I never really considered myself as someone who was really into wildlife, but I recently caught myself chatting to a friend about safaris, and in that moment, I realized how much I actually knew off the cuff about a variety of African megafauna.
In general, I sometimes feel conflicted about the existence of zoological parks. There's something that just feels wrong about keeping animals in artificial habitats. A lot of early zoos were sources of entertainment and embraced animal performance, but thankfully the industry has seen a shift in purpose and intent over time. Modern zoos are places of education, research, and conservation. The value of breeding endangered animals is just one example of their value. The video below by the National Zoo is a great summary of this zoo's value and impact.
I don't know if you remember the first time you ever went to a zoo, but I know I'll never forget the gorilla experience at the Bronx Zoo. As a child, there's no way to replicate the sense of thrill and amazement you feel when you're standing with only a sheet of glass between you and a western lowland gorilla. No TV or iPad can replicate that feeling. After all, how else can we expect to inspire the next generation of conservationists and scientists?
I was so disappointed when the panda cam went offline and the Zoo closed their doors due to the recent government shutdown, but thankfully, the cam is back on and the National Zoo opened again to visitors starting today. This weekend, visitors will receive a 10 percent discount on food and merchandise (October 18 through 20). Also, everyone 18 and younger can ride the carousel for free. Sounds like a great reason to visit the zoo with the whole family this weekend, to me!