When visitors return to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute May 21, they will find both familiar and new faces as they explore the park. Although the Zoo has been closed since Nov. 23, 2020, to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the animal care team reported to work and provided the same level of care for their charges as any other day. Animals newly on view include giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji, Amur tiger Mitas, Przewalski’s horse mother-son duo, Barbie and Cooper, Komodo dragon juvenile Onyx, Andean bear Brienne, American bison Lucy and Gally, California sea lion Charger and North American beaver Poplar, a new wallaby joey and a kudu calf. The Reptile Discovery Center will be open on the weekends, Friday through Sunday.
As the Zoo prepares to reopen to the public, updates have been made to its hours and entry requirements. In addition to limiting the number of visitors, the Zoo is once again implementing required safety procedures and guidelines. These changes include free timed-entry passes, requiring face coverings for all visitors ages 2 and up, enhanced cleaning and helpful social distancing markers and hand-sanitizing stations throughout the Zoo. For everyone’s safety, some areas of the Zoo are closed. As part of the Smithsonian Institution, the Zoo adheres to federal safety policy and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 public health guidance.
Visitors must reserve either a free timed-entry pass for each person in their party if arriving on foot or a paid parking pass if driving and parking at the Zoo. A parking pass serves as admission for all persons arriving in a single vehicle. Detailed guidance on entry and parking passes is available on the Zoo’s website. All entry passes will be available online starting Friday morning, May 14, at 12:01 a.m. in advance of the Zoo’s opening Friday, May 21.
In addition to a free timed-entry or paid parking pass, visitors who wish to view giant pandas Tian Tian, Mei Xiang and Xiao Qi Ji at the David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat must obtain a free timed Asia Trail/Panda Pass for each person in their party. Due to safety procedures, access to the giant panda exhibit is extremely limited to 620 guests per day, and visitors are asked to limit their giant panda viewing to 15 minutes.
Visitors can reserve Asia Trail/Panda Passes onsite at eight giant panda statue kiosks located throughout the Zoo. Visitors will use their smart phone to download passes via a QR code. The day’s first Panda Passes are available when the Zoo opens at 8 a.m. Additional Panda Passes are released every hour starting at 8:30 a.m. for 15-minute intervals in the following hour. The last available time slot is 3:30 p.m. Visitors without a smart phone can obtain an Asia Trail/Panda Pass at the Visitor Center.
Smithsonian National Zoo Members have the opportunity to reserve Asia Trail/Panda Passes via members-only advance registration on the Zoo’s website or in person after arriving onsite at the Zoo.
The giant pandas always have a choice of where to spend their time, including off-exhibit areas where they may be out of visitors’ view. Xiao Qi Ji tends to be active early in the morning and early afternoon. At this age, he takes frequent naps and his activities may vary from day to day. Giant pandas prefer their cooled indoor habitats when temperatures rise in the summer.
Dining locations around the Zoo will be open to satiate hungry visitors, including Elevation Burger near the Great Cats habitat, Sbarro at Panda Plaza, Auntie Anne’s and Carvel at the Panda Overlook Café, and Ben & Jerry’s at the Seal Rock Café on American Trail. Visitors may purchase gifts and souvenirs at the Panda Plaza gift shop and various outdoor retail kiosks throughout the park. To maintain social distancing, the Great Cats gift shop will be closed. Operating hours vary by location; for more information, visit the Zoo’s website.