America's zoo treasurehouse
National Zoological Park was the vision of taxidermist William Temple Hornaday, who created a "little try-out zoo" in 1887 behind the Smithsonian's Castle, exhibiting a small group of animals mostly from the American West.
Several thousand people a day flocked to see a bear, an eagle, badgers, bison and other animals -- and Hornaday used the exhibit's success to persuade Congress to pass legislation creating the National Zoo. A year after its establishment, Congress put the animal park under the jurisdiction of the Smithsonian Institute.
Today visitors can encounter Golden Lion Tamarins roaming wild along the park's winding paths, watch orangutans swing from building to building on overhead cables, wander through wetlands, or check out the first Komodo dragons to breed in the Western hemisphere.
The Zoo's new re-creation of a tropical river and forest -- Amazonia -- is also a top draw, along with its Reptile Discovery Center, and of course, the amazing naked mole rats.
National Zoological Park
3001 Connecticut Ave., Washington; (202) 673-4800
Web site: http://www.si.edu/natzoo/
FAST FACT: The National Zoo's first animals were a pair of elephants named Dunk and Gold Dust, obtained in 1891 -- two years after President Grover Cleveland signed the bill establishing the zoo.
Photos courtesy the National Zoo.