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Endangered Species Programs at the Smithsonian National Zoo


The National Zoological Park in Washington D.C. is a part of the Smithsonian Institution. The Zoo, founded in 1889, comprises 163 acres and is home to 2,000 individual animals of nearly 400 different species. Its mission as the flagship zoo of the United States is to demonstrate leadership in animal care, science, education, and sustainability.

In addition, the Zoo operates the 3,200-acre Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia where rare species like Mongolian wild horses, scimitar-horned oryx, maned wolves, golden lion tamarins, Sumatran tigers, and sarus cranes are able to live and breed in expansive, peaceful surroundings.

It was in the early 1960s that the Zoo began to focus on breeding and studying threatened and endangered species. The zoological research division was established to study the reproduction, behavior, and ecology of zoo species and apply these findings to the protection and enhancement of species at risk.

Some of the endangered and threatened species targeted by conservation programs at the National Zoological Park include:

Black-Footed Ferrets

Photo by the USFWS

The National Zoo's Black-Footed Ferret Reproduction Project studies the biology of the black-footed ferret to enhance reproduction, maintain genetic diversity, and provide animals for reintroduction to the western Great Plains.


Photo by the USFWS

Zoo scientists work with leaders, scientists, and conservation managers from 13 countries where tigers still roam to help save this magnificent creature from extinction, and ensure a future world populated with tigers.

Rare Felids

Photo by the USFWS

The National Zoo's Cat Conservation Project studies reproduction of rare cat species to create scholarly knowledge and to facilitate management and conservation of cheetahs, clouded leopards, and fishing cats.

Rare Canids

Photo courtesy of Michael Gabler / Wikimedia

Zoo scientists study the reproduction and ecology of rare canids, including maned wolves from South America, dholes from Asia and, African wild dogs.


Photo by Ruby 1x2 (CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL) / via Wikimedia Commons

Scientists at the Zoo work to understand, and halt, the unprecedented decline of amphibian populations around the world.

White-Naped Cranes

Photo by Alastair Rae via Wikimedia

Zoo scientists work to conserve these beautiful birds through captive breeding and research. Through artificial insemination, the zoo has added vital genetic diversity to the captive flock by producing offspring from cranes previously unable to breed.

Virginia Big-Eared Bats

Photo by BLM

Zoo researchers accepted a grant to attempt to establish a "lifeboat colony" of this critically endangered subspecies of the Townsend's big-eared bat to combat population decimation by the deadly white-nose syndrome.

Micronesian Kingfishers

Photo by Eric Savage via Wikipedia

These endangered birds are difficult to breed in captivity, and Zoo scientists are working to figure out why.

Hooved Species

Photo by Joe Ravi (CC-BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia

A male scimitar-horned oryx, a female Przewalski's horse, and a female onager were born in August of 2012 at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia.

Giant Pandas

Photo by Matthew Field (GFDL , CC-BY-SA-3.0) via Wikimedia Commons

The National Zoo has been the home to giant pandas for more than 30 years. First Hsing Hsing and Ling Ling in 1972, and, since 2000, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, have symbolized the Zoo's efforts to celebrate, study, and protect endangered species and their habitats. On July 9, 2005, the birth of giant panda Tai Shan was an important milestone in the program's successful history.

Two new research papers by Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute scientists and partners will help conservation biologists make strides in saving the fewer than 1,600 giant pandas left in the mountain forests of central China.


Photo by Vikram Gupchup via Wikimedia

Researchers at Smithsonian's National Zoo were the first to identify and are the world leaders in research on the elephant endotheliotropic herpes virus, which threatens elephant populations worldwide.

Migratory Birds

Photo by Ken Thomas via Wikimedia

The Migratory Bird Center studies the role of disease in bird population declines and the environmental challenges facing Neotropical songbirds and wetland birds in urban and suburban environments. They also train professionals in environmental coffee certification throughout Latin America.

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