3 Curious Facts About the Smithsonian National Zoo

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

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When we put down a trip to Washington D.C. on our Fort Liberty Bucket List, a visit to the National Zoo wasn’t even on our radar.

And though our first trip to D.C. was pretty miserable, I’m 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. The zoo’s full name is Smithsonian National Zoological Park.

The National Zoo was Home to an American Icon

Somebody famous lived at the zoo?


Smokey the Bear was an actual bear, who lived at the National Zoo for 26 years. 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’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.

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.)
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 850 officers, 30 of them are specifically assigned to the National Zoo.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking that these guys are ‘just security guards’. The Zoo Police are fully-trained police officers. They carry firearms and have full law enforcement jurisdiction within the District of Columbia and the 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 entire country 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 endangered. At the zoo, we learned just how endangered these cute, cuddly creatures really are.

There are an estimated 1,864 pandas in the wild and 548 pandas in captivity.

To put that in perspective, there are more visitors at the National Zoo in one day than there are pandas in the entire world!

Mind = blown.

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

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.

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