News & Politics

Animals Making Music at National Zoo

Otters on the keyboards, orangutans on the xylophone, and a harmonica-playing bear cub? Yes.

Yes, this really happened. Screenshot via YouTube.

After its pop-culture moment with the band Portugal the Man recording a song for Sumatran tigers, it appears the National Zoo is sharing the music with other species by allowing them to experiment with various instruments.

The zoo uploaded three videos on Tuesday, the most prominent being a 30-second clip of a romp of Asian small-clawed otters clawing at an electronic keyboard, producing a tune that sounds like sounds like stunting from a stadium organ player.

If keyboard-playing otters aren’t your thing, there’s also an orangutan bashing a children’s xylophone and a sloth bear cub blowing into a harmonica (and being adorably shocked by the tinny sound it makes).

Is the National Zoo starting an all-animal band? Not quite. The jam sessions are part of the zoo’s “animal enrichment” program in which it gives its specimens exercises to better demonstrate their “species-typical” behaviors. Other activities in the program include orangutans using iPads and giant pandas trying to paint.

The zoo is holding a demonstration of its enrichment program this Saturday from 10 to 2. Perhaps by that point, the otters, orangutans, and sloth bears will have polished up their skills to the point where they can cover “Heart of Gold.”

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.