News & Politics

Wanna Ride the Zebra?

The National Zoo will soon welcome 58 animals as a part of its new carousel.

One of the 58 animals on the National Zoo’s new carousel gets ready for its close-up. Photograph courtesy of Carousel Works.

The National Zoo will soon house 58 new animals–from a bald eagle to a naked mole rat–and zoogoers will be able to see them up close, pet them, even ride them. They’ll just be a bit wooden to the touch. Actually, all wooden. The next step in the zoo’s drive to be more modern and more fun is a throwback: a wooden carousel–the second such Smithsonian attraction, whose counterpart on the Mall has been running for decades.

Crafters at Ohio’s Carousel Works, which also created the insect-themed merry-go-round at the Bronx Zoo, are hand-carving the animals from 30 to 70 pieces of basswood each. Hardest to carve? The eight-legged octopus.

When the solar-powered ride opens this fall on the zoo’s Lion/Tiger Hill, kids will be able to climb onto a Maryland blue crab and a Baltimore oriole as well as a cuttlefish and an elephant shrew. With any luck, says zoo director Dennis Kelly, the carousel will pique children’s interest in animals and conservation in a way that pink horses with chartreuse manes probably don’t.

Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough has been informally selling animal sponsorships at events around town. Perks mainly involve having the donor’s name on a plaque under the animal and getting exclusive rides before the carousel opens to the public.

Appropriately enough, the alumni club of Georgia Tech, the institution Clough previously headed, swooped up the yellow jacket.

This article appears in the May 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.