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We Try to Find Animals at the Shut-Down National Zoo We Try to Find Animals at the Shut-Down National Zoo

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We Try to Find Animals at the Shut-Down National Zoo

photo of Matt  Berman
October 2, 2013

Someone told me it's all happening at the zoo. On Wednesday morning, that proved to be dramatically incorrect.

With the federal government shut down, Washington's famed National Zoo is closed to the public. Much of its staff is furloughed. But somewhere in there, a baby panda is doing panda stuff without a camera to live-stream it to the world.

After countless phone calls to zoo officials turned up only a "sorry, we're shut down" message, it was time to get to the bottom of exactly who is still working at the zoo, and what animals we could still find there.

I attempted to sneak into the zoo through the back entrance. After all, if slipping through the back door works in movies, maybe it also works at the zoo during a shutdown. It did not.

(Matt Berman)

Walking along the road to the zoo's main entrance, I spied the house where the National Zoo keeps its donkeys. Alas, I could not see the donkeys from this distance.

(Matt Berman)

But wait, look closely! In the bottom-right corner of this photo, you can spy a very special animal inside of the zoo's fence. Spoiler: It's a stupid squirrel.

(Matt Berman)

A delivery entrance at the side of the zoo was locked up. Presumably, there is not much official zoo business during a shutdown.


(Matt Berman)

At the main entrance to the zoo on Connecticut Avenue, all looked about normal. In the surrounding Woodley Park neighborhood, there was no looting and local businesses hadn't yet noticed any changes due to the shutdown. The local Firehook Bakery was actually abnormally packed.

Only one middle-aged man walked down the street yelling "The government is shut down!" while chuckling to himself.

(Matt Berman)

Here is the official "No Zoo for You" sign, a version of which you can see at most museums around D.C. Inside the gate, four men were working on building a fence. They said that there were only a few people working inside the zoo, but couldn't say much else about the state of affairs.

(Matt Berman)

Two security officials stood at a delivery entrance by the main gate. There were a few National Zoo employees milling about, but no one was able to speak to National Journal, or let a reporter through the gates.


(Matt Berman)

An employee was able to point me to a non-furloughed public-affairs official, but she was unable to grant an interview request during the shutdown. Linda St. Thomas, the Smithsonian's chief spokesperson, told me that zoo vets, nutritionists, keepers, maintenance staff, and security personnel are not on furlough because their jobs are in animal care.

St. Thomas says that there are 680 total Smithsonian staff working during the shutdown out of a total of 6,400 employees, including 4,200 federal workers. She was not able to give an estimate of how many people are currently working at the National Zoo, or how many employees there are furloughed. Why? Because the zoo's HR department is currently furloughed.

The full message from the National Zoo: During a shutdown, we'll feed the animals. But not the reporters.

But, luckily, animal seekers were not totally without hope:

(Matt Berman)

As this animal's owner noted, it looks like something between a panda and a cow. So let's just pretend it was a panda. No one really gives a damn about cows.

A couple blocks from the zoo, I was able to find even more representatives of the animal kingdom. Thank God for Petco.

(Matt Berman)

Here we have some very happy fish doing their fish thing. 

And here we have a totally absurd picture of a dog wearing a coat:


(Matt Berman)

Dogs are actually bred to have coats on them. That's what their hair/fur is called. Coats. Humans: Please stop making your dogs wear clothes. They do not like it.

So this is it. We found one panda/cow, a squirrel, some fish, and no one who was able to answer any of our questions. But, at least Petco knows that turtles are totally rad.

(Matt Berman)

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