The National Zoo has much to offer in addition to the pandas. Carved out of rolling, wooded hills in Rock Creek Park, it houses 2,000 animals, representing 400 species, in innovative compounds showing animals in their native settings. Step inside the Great Flight Cage to observe the flight of many species of birds; this walk-in aviary is open from May to October (the birds are moved indoors during the colder months). Between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. each day you can catch the
orangutans traveling on the "O Line," a series of cables and towers near the Great Ape House that allows the primates to swing hand over hand about 35 feet over your head. One of the more unusual exhibits is Amazonia, an amazingly authentic reproduction of a South American rain-forest ecosystem. You feel as if you are deep inside a steamy jungle, with monkeys leaping overhead and noisy birds flying from branch to branch. Exciting new exhibits are always being added, such as the new Asia trail featuring sloth bears, fishing cats, red pandas, a Japanese giant salamander, clouded leopards, and other Asian species.
On the giant panda front, Tian Tian and Mei Xiang have been the zoo's most famous residents since 2000, and a new contract guarantees that they will stay in Washington until December 2015. In 2005 the pandas had their first cub, Tai Shan, who was moved to China in 2010. The new baby, Bao Bao, born in the late summer of 2013, is currently delighting visitors with her bamboo eating and lounging.
Part of the Smithsonian Institution, the National Zoo was created by an Act of Congress in 1889, and the 163-acre park was designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed the U.S. Capitol grounds and New York's Central Park. Before the zoo opened in 1890, live animals used as taxidermists' models were kept on the Mall. Visit early in the morning or late afternoon for your best chance of seeing active animals. Many sleep at midday.