The National Zoo, part of the Smithsonian institution, boasts a 163-acre zoo, with more than 400 species of animals. The zoo is part of the larger national park, Rock Creek. As with all other Smithsonian institutions, admission to the Zoo is free. The zoo is famous for its panda pair of Mei Xiang and Tian Tian. The zoo is funded mainly by tax dollars and has more than 2 million visitors a year.
The zoo was founded in 1889 by famed American naturalist William T. Hornaday, who was concerned by the disappearance of native species of the United States, mainly bison. His dream was to create a place where breeding of these endangered species could take place so native animal species wouldn’t be lost. The Zoo continues his wishes by having a large animal breeding program.
- The Zoo operates a 3,200 acre conservation facility in Virginia, where between 30 and 40 endangered species are enrolled in breeding programs.
- The panda Tai Shan, on loan to the Zoo from the Chinese government, is returning to China in early 2010.
- The zoo’s original collection of animals came from places such as circuses and did not really begin to become large until World War II.