National Zoological Park


The National Zoological Park was founded in 1889 to preserve, teach, and conduct research about the animal world. The zoo opened in Rock Creek Park, Washington, DC in 1891, on a site designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, and has been home to giant pandas, Asian elephants, and Smokey the Bear.

National Zoological Park
National Zoo Entrance, 2006
National Zoological Park entrance
Buffalo Behind Smithsonian Institution Building
Bison in Castle South Yard, 1880s
Two buffalo are in a paddock in the South Yard behind the Smithsonian Institution Building. They were acquired in 1886 by the United States National Museum's Department of Living Animals, which eventually became the National Zoological Park. This photograph, taken sometime between 1886 and 1889, predates the founding of the NZP which was established by Act of Congress in 1889.
Buffalo at the National Zoological Park, 1890s
Bison at New National Zoo, 1891
Buffaloes grazing at the National Zoological Park in 1891 soon after the completion of the first building, the Buffalo and Elk Barn, a glorified log cabin house for bison and elk. In the background an elk in his yard is visible. The first inhabitants of the Zoo were the 185 animals under the care of William Temple Hornaday, Curator of Living Animals, United States National Museum, that had been sheltered by fences behind the Smithsonian Institution Building.
Visitors to the Zoo Relax by Rock Creek
Visitors to South Ford of Rock Creek, c. 1891
Visitors are seated on rocks at the south ford of Rock Creek near the National Zoological Park. A horse-drawn carriage with passengers has stopped in the water.
Alligators, NZP, by Unknown, 1900, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 14349 or MAH-14349.
Alligators in Original Animal House, 1900
Alligators in their enclosure in the original Animal House, also known as the Carnivora House, which opened in 1892 and was the first permanent building at the National Zoological Park. The alligators are housed in the "temporary" wooden wing of the structure. They were given more spacious accommodations when the Reptile House was completed in 1931.
Easter Monday at the National Zoo
Easter Egg Roll on Lion and Tiger Hill, c. 1900
The annual Easter Egg Roll on Easter Monday at the National Zoological Park. At the top of the hill, the original 1892 Animal House, also known as the Lion House, designed by William R. Emerson is visible. By the turn of the century the National Zoological Park had become a popular spot to spend Easter Monday. Many of the visitors were African Americans who worked as domestics and had off the day after the Easter holiday. Easter Monday at the National Zoo soon became a traditional African American family event. Crowds spent the day seeing the animals, picnicking, and, especially popular among the children, enjoying the Annual Easter Egg Roll on Lion and Tiger Hill, shown here. The Easter Monday tradition has continued to the present, especially as an African American family celebration. The zoo officials called Easter Tuesday "The Cleanup Day."
Elephant House with Elephant Walking in the Yard, NZP,1903
Elephant House, 1903
Photograph of the brick Elephant House designed by Hornblower and Marshall for the National Zoological Park. Construction on the building began in September of 1902 and was completed in January of 1903. According to the Annual Report, the elephants were moved into the house on March 12, 1903. A hastily erected shed called the Octagonal Barn had been used by the elephants, some of the first animals at the Zoo. In 1891 the Adams-Forepaugh Shows, a locally based circus that wintered its animals at the Zoo, gave two elephants, Dunk and Gold Dust, who were ceremoniously led up Connecticut Avenue to their quarters. The Barn was used until 1903 when the animals were afforded more permanent accommodations. Secretary Samuel P. Langley (1887-1906) had earlier solicited designs from numerous architects for an elephant house but none were satisfactory. In 1936 Works Progress Administration funds provided for the first moated exhibit, the current Pachyderm House.
Cage for Golden and Bald Eagles at NZP
Golden and Bald Eagles in New Enclosure, 1903
Soon after the completion of the Flying Cage at the Bird House at the National Zoological Park in 1902, a visitor stands outside the cage to see the Golden and Bald Eagles.
Skaters on Rock Creek, by Unknown, c. 1905, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 17089 or MAH-17089.
Ice Skaters on Rock Creek in Zoo, 1905
On the grounds of the National Zoological Park at the turn of the century, ice skaters are enjoying skating on frozen Rock Creek.
Civil Works Administration Workers Laying Water Main Pipes
Civil Works Administration Workers at Zoo during Depression, 1934
This photograph shows Civil Works Administration laborers laying water main pipes to the Office of the Director in the National Zoological Park. The CWA was a New Deal program established to employ people during the Great Depression. These laborers are laying the water main in the snow.
Smokey Bear Frolicking in a Pool
"Smokey the Bear" at Zoo, c. 1950
The original Smokey Bear frolicking in a pool at the National Zoological Park. Smokey Bear was brought from New Mexico in June of 1950 after being burned as a cub from a forest fire that swept through a portion of the Lincoln National Forest. Smokey Bear served as a living symbol of the Smokey Bear forest fire prevention program.
Mann Lion and Tiger Exhibit, by Unknown, 1976, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 92-1787.
Mann Lion Tiger Exhibit, 1976
The new home for lions and tigers at the National Zoological Park in the Dr. William M. Mann Lion and Tiger Exhibit opened in May of 1976. The natural setting exhibit is 3-acres in size and is surrounded by a moat.
Zebras at Conservation & Research Center, Front Royal, VA
Zebras at New Conservation and Research Center, 1979
Zebras Jill, Sheba, Flo, Susana and Shirley graze in a pasture at the National Zoological Park's Conservation and Research Center in Front Royal, Virginia. The Conservation and Research Center of the National Zoological Park was established in 1975 to encourage development of all aspects of animal sciences. It trains wildlife biologists from developing countries, and breeds, houses, and conducts research on a range of endangered species. Prior to being transferred to the Smithsonian, the property served as a United States Army Cavalry Remount Station, a facility for prisoners of war during World War II, and a United States Department of Agriculture cattle station.
National Zoological Park Baby Elephant Jayathu Receives Pat from President Ronald Reagan
Jayathu, Baby Elephant, Donated to Zoo, 1984
Upon her arrival in this country from Sri Lanka, National Zoological Park baby elephant Jayathu receives a pat from President Ronald Reagan, June 12, 1984.
Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing at National Zoo
Giant Pandas Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing Playing, 1985
Ling-Ling (left) and Hsing-Hsing, the National Zoological Park's Giant Pandas, play together in their outside enclosure.
Monkey Island at NZP, by Cohen, Jessie, 1986, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 2003-19490.
Monkey Island Exhibit at Zoo, 1986
This 1986 photograph of Monkey Island illustrates the current trend of zoo animal exhibitry. Monkey Island is home to several species of animals including Barbary macaque monkeys, Oriental short-clawed otters and several types of fish. Multi-species enclosures give the animals a more natural setting and allow the zoo visitor to see how different animals co-exist in the same habitat.
NZP Keeper Morna Holden Feeding Animals
Keeper Greets Bison in Snow, 1987
In a snow-covered enclosure, National Zoological Park keeper Morna Holden greets a bison as she puts out food for a sandhill crane.
NZP's Veterinary Hospital
Zoo Veterinary Hospital, 1988
Zoo keeper Sara Hallager assisting associate veterinarian Lyndsay Phillips in a worming procedure on an infant red panda in the treatment room of the NZP's new veterinary hospital which opened September 7, 1988.
NZP Elephants Getting to Know Each Other
Elephants Get to Know Each Other, 1988
Nancy, the National Zoological Park's (NZP) African elephant, introduces herself to Shanthi and Ambika, NZP's Asian elephants, while Collection Manager John Lehnhardt (lower l.) and keepers Kathy Wallace and Marie Galloway eavesdrop. Ambika responds by permitting Nancy to touch her trunk.
NZP Photographer Jessie Cohen and Mopie
Photographer Jessie Cohen with Gorilla, Mopie, 1992
National Zoo Photographer, Jessie Cohen, and gorilla friend, Mopie, share a reflective moment in the Great Ape House at the National Zoological Park. Of all her many interests, Cohen says that shooting portraits of animals in repose and in action is her favorite thing to do.