News & Politics

Baby Sloth and Tiger Cubs Help Zoo Make Comeback

Visitors to the National Zoo need to look no farther than inside the gates to see the turnaround happening under director John Berry.

Berry took over the zoo in 2005 after years of problems and bad press under former director Lucy Spelman. He’s helped lead the zoo to its best year ever—breaking records for attendance, revenue, and membership in the Friends of the National Zoo.

One of the big changes is the opening of the Asia Trail, complete with the pandas and the sloth bear, right inside the zoo’s Connecticut Avenue entrance. The project, begun under Spelman, was a $53-million upgrade to some of the zoo’s sorriest exhibits and now showcases animals from the Japanese giant salamander to the red panda.

In the spring, the zoo will break ground on a renovation and expansion of the elephant house and habitat.

Berry’s been very public about his goal to make the zoo the best in the world by 2016, as judged by its science, animal care, conservation work, and educational efforts.

“It’s an open title right now, and there’s no reason we can’t claim it,” he says.

The zoo has been helped by good weather on weekends, which has boosted attendance, and a series of much-beloved new babies—including two litters of cheetah cubs, new tiger cubs, a baby sloth bear, and Tai Shan, the world-famous giant-panda cub.

This fall the zoo received three new lions that will come out of quarantine in December for public viewing. With the new lions, a litter of cubs may not be far behind.

Berry’s spending much of his days—and many of his weekends—doing fundraising and preparing for a capital campaign. Next up? He’s heading to China for two weeks in December to help strengthen ties with the nation that owns the zoo’s giant pandas.