3 Curious Facts About Our National Zoo

My kids were too excited to see the panda bears at the zoo in Washington D.C.

When we put down a trip to Washington D.C on our Fort Bragg Bucket List, a visit to the National Zoo wasn’t even on our radar. And though our trip to D.C was less than ideal, I am glad that we were able to experience one of the most impressive zoos in the world!

Our National Zoo is part of the world-famous Smithsonian Institution. In fact, the zoo’s full name is Smithsonian National Zoological Park.

The National Zoo was Home to an American Icon

Huh? Somebody famous lived at the zoo?


Smokey the Bear was an actual bear, who lived for 26 years at the National Zoo. In the spring of 1950, three-month-old Smokey survived a forest fire in New Mexico. After his recuperation, he flew to his new home in Washington D.C.

Smokey Bear and Judy Bell at the National Zoo in Washington D.C.
(Smokey Bear & Judy Bell at the National Zoo in 1958 – courtesy of the National Agricultural Library.)

Smokey’s story became a national sensation. He became so popular that people began sending gifts and money to him at the zoo. He received so much fan mail – 13,000 pieces per day – that the U.S Postal Service gave him his own zip code!

Smokey was a living symbol of wildfire prevention and to this day remains an American icon.

Kids playing on the honey bee inspired playground at the zoo.
(There is a honey bee inspired playground at the zoo, which I like to think is nod to Smokey Bear’s favorite snack.)

The National Zoo Has It’s Own Police Force

The Smithsonian Institute (which includes the National Zoo) employs 850 ‘special police’ officers tasked with protecting visitors, staff, property, and grounds. Of these, 30 officers are specifically assigned to the National Zoo.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that these guys are ‘just security guards’. The Zoo Police are trained officers. They carry firearms and have full law enforcement jurisdiction within the District of Columbia and State of Virginia. In fact, the National Zoological Park Police is one of the oldest police forces in the District.

(This photo is courtesy of Mason’s Police Patch Archive.)

Pandas are More Rare Than We Knew

Seeing ‘real live pandas’ was one of the main reasons for our visit to the Smithsonian Zoo. Only 4 zoos in the U.S have resident panda bears and we didn’t want to miss our chance at seeing one in person.

It’s common knowledge that Giant Pandas are an endangered species. At the zoo we learned just how endangered these cute, cuddly creatures really are.

An estimated 1,864 pandas live in the wild and 548 pandas live in captivity. To put that in perspective, it is likely that there were more visitors at the National Zoo in a day than there are pandas in the whole entire world!

Mind = blown.

Our trip to the National Zoo was an amazing experience! Even though we got off to a rough start (you can read all about the mistakes we made in D.C), I am so glad that we had the opportunity to visit such a historic and interesting zoo.

3 Curious Facts About the National Zoo in Washington D.C. | Finding Mandee
3 Curious Facts About the National Zoo in Washington D.C. | Finding Mandee

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