In the middle of Washington, D.C., lies the National Zoo, popular for its pandas and its free admission, a policy shared by all Smithsonian institutions.
GOLDEN LION TAMARIN: Born November 8, 2006
For more than 30 years, the zoo has been observing and breeding golden lion tamarins and then releasing these small monkeys in Brazil's Atlantic coastal forests (their natural abode). As part of the program, each summer a pair or family of tamarins is let loose to explore the zoo freely; note that they tend to congregate in the trees of Beaver Valley.
Who Knew? Tamarins give alarm calls when they feel threatened and have a specific call for when large birds are spotted overhead. When others hear the call, they often dash to the trunks of trees. Find out more here.
KIWI: Born February 13, 2006
A rare North Island brown kiwi, Manaia is only the second such bird to hatch at the National Zoo in its 116-year history. New Zealand is the birds' homeland, and the chick's name means "guardian of the earth and sky" in Maori (the language of indigenous New Zealanders). The country's ambassador to the United States made a special trip to meet Manaia last May. Visitors from all corners of the globe can get an up close look through the Meet a Kiwi program on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, or through the kiwi cam.
Who Knew? Unlike other birds, kiwis have poor eyesight and a great sense of smell. Nostrils near the tip of their long bills allow them to smell their prey--as opposed to seeing it.
SLOTH BEAR CUB: Born January 9, 2006
The cub Balawat lives with his parents in the Asia Trail near the Fujifilm Giant Panda Habitat. Sloth bears, common in India and Sri Lanka, are nocturnal creatures that make noisy grunting sounds and use their long, curved claws to get at insects. Listen to an audio clip and find out more about these little-known bears here.
Who Knew? Cubs spend the first several months underground, and once they emerge from the den, they stay by their mothers for two or three years before venturing off.
PANDA CUB: Born July 9, 2005
Tai Shan ("peaceful mountain" in Chinese) is the zoo's star attraction: a much-loved, playful giant panda cub, who measured less than 12 inches long when he was born. Thousands of visitors turned out last summer to join in his first birthday celebrations. According to the zoo, only around 1,600 giant pandas survive in the bamboo forests of central China, and the endangered animals have become an international symbol of conservation efforts. You can make a donation to the zoo's efforts, learn more about Tai Shan's family tree, and scope him out on the panda cam by clicking here.
Who Knew? The zoo held a contest to determine the cub's name and, after 200,000 votes, dubbed him Tai Shan when he was 100 days old.
PANDA: In early April, giant panda Mei Xiang--the mother of Tai Shan--was artificially inseminated in coordination with the San Diego Zoo and its male panda, Gao Gao. Zookeepers are closely tracking Mei Xiang's hormones and posting detailed updates on their Pregnancy Watch page. They estimate that it will be three to six months before a cub is born.
National Zoo, 3001 Connecticut Ave., NW, 202/633-4800, nationalzoo.si.edu, free.