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A Trip to the National Zoo Can Take You Around the World

When people think of the Smithsonian Museum, their mind naturally drifts to the red brick building on Constitution Avenue and to thoughts of fossils and ancient cultures.

But far removed from the Smithsonian’s downtown area is a living, breathing museum brimming with creatures of every kind.

The Smithsonian National Zoological Park, or as it’s locally known, the National Zoo, resides on Connecticut Avenue, in Northwest D.C., between the Cleveland and Woodley Park neighborhoods.

The National Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in America, with its doors opening well over 100 years ago. With over 163 acres, it is one of the biggest parks in the city. It houses and cares for an astounding amount of mammals, invertebrates and amphibians, nearly 4,000 in total.

A trip to the National Zoo begins at the main entrance on Connecticut Avenue. A short stroll will take you to the visitor’s center, where you can grab maps of the property and plan the day. Outside the visitor’s center, you’ll hop on the Olmsted Walk, the zoo’s main throughway. Making a left off of the main artery, just past the visitor’s center, takes you right to Africa. Zebras stand grazing mere yards in front of you. To their left, cheetahs lie waiting in the weeds, silently watching. Don’t worry though, there’s a large fence separating these two.

Along the walkway, visitors can test their speed with that of a cheetah, the world’s fastest land mammal. A yellow line signifies a starting point and asks you to sprint as fast as you can. You won’t come close to reaching the mark the cheetahs can reach in the allotted time, as these creatures can reach speeds of 60 miles-per-hour. Past the cheetah enclosure, visitors can see onyx and antelope, Africa’s natural savannah grazers.

After your Africa safari, head to one of the zoo’s most popular stretches, the Asia Trail.

On a path surrounded by bamboo and babbling streams, visitors can see sloth bears, fishing cats, leopards and, of course, the zoo’s favorite inhabitants, the Giants Pandas.  More beloved than the Redskins are these two D.C. denizens, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, who make the Giant Panda Habitat their home.

The Giant Panda Habitat consists of over 12,000 outdoor acres, giving the two bears plenty of room to romp. It also includes a science center. Walking through the inside of the Giant Panda Habitat, guests can read about the history of Giant Pandas in this city, as well as the breeding efforts to produce panda cubs. Past attempts have been successful, in fact, the panda’s child Tian Shan, is now residing in China.

Farther down the Olmsted Walk are several popular indoor houses that visitors can take in at their leisure. Sadly, a very popular one, the Elephant House, is still closed for repairs. It’s expected to open back up in early 2013, and the zoo’s three Asian elephants: Kandula; Shanthi and Ambika, will be joined by a larger herd.

Just past the Elephant House is the Small Mammal House, full of tamarins, armadillos, shrews and many other assorted mammals. Next, you’ll find the Great Ape House, where zoo guests can see human’s closest companions. Orangutans and gorillas wander through the large enclosure, staring and smiling at the large crowds that gather, as well as interacting with each other.

Down the walk, on the way to the Invertebrate House, people can see a true living fossil, the Komodo Dragon. This massively large green reptilian, which can grow to ten feet long, looks more like it belongs in Jurassic Park than at the National Zoo.

These exhibits are just a handful of what can be accomplished in a full day at the National Zoo, with many more wonderful houses and learning experiences for kids and adults alike. And the best part of any trip to the zoo is that admission is completely free.

So this week, head to Cleveland Park, but instead, be transported all over the world.


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