District of Columbia
The National Zoological Park, or National Zoo, is a component of the Smithsonian Institution. The oldest zoo in the United States, the National Zoo is usually counted among the top five such urban animal parks in the country. It is also one of the most visited. In addition to the main zoological campus in Washington DC, the Smithsonian also runs a much larger facility, the Conservation Biology Institute, in Front Royal, Virginia.
In 1889, the United States congress passed an act calling for the establishment of a zoo in the capital. It became an immediate and popular project, worked on by such luminaries as famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. It became part of the Smithsonian Institute in 1890. In the mid-20th century, the zoo began focusing on better conditions and environments for the animals, and became active in the conservation movement. From 1950 to 1976 the National Zoo was home to Smokey Bear, the namesake poster bear of the environmental movement.
The National Zoo is somewhat smaller than its biggest rivals (Bronx and San Diego), but still boasts two thousand animals of four hundred species. There are over a dozen exhibit areas. These do not follow usual patterns of American zoos, with sections for Asia, Africa, etc., but animals from all over the world are represented. The most popular residents, by far, are the Giant Pandas, which are rare for a permanent exhibit outside of China.
The National Zoological Park is located on the north side of Washington DC, approximately three miles away from the National Mall. It is open year-round from 6:00am-6:00pm (longer hours in Summer; closed on Christmas). As part of the Smithsonian Institution there is no charge for admission. Web: http://nationalzoo.si.edu (official website).