National Zoo, Smithsonian museums reopening after shutdown |

National Zoo, Smithsonian museums reopening after shutdown

The Washington Post
Carolyn Kaster/AP
The Smithsonian's National Zoo was reopened to visitors Tuesday after a partial government shutdown left the gates locked for more than three weeks.

WASHINGTON — There was no line of people waiting to rush the gates Tuesday at the National Zoo, the institution’s first day back after a partial government shutdown left the gates locked for more than three weeks.

But the regulars were back, and the animals were happy to have them.

Though nearly 200 employees worked without pay throughout the shutdown, the animals seemed to miss their human visitors, said Brandie Smith, the zoo’s associate director of animal care.

“The elephants and the primates were especially — you realize how much they appreciate having us there as entertainment,” she said. “We had zoo staff go by just to say ‘hi’ so they would have some attention from people.”

On Tuesday, about a dozen animal lovers wandered through the gates and into their favorite exhibits. They “oohed” and “ahhed” as the pandas swung down tree branches and munched on bamboo.

Several took photos and videos as the animals clambered around.

“It’s great to be back and have our zoo open,” said Helen Gonzales, 72, who lives in a neighborhood nearby and visits about three times a week. “It’s been hard. Not only because we don’t get to see the animals, but for us regulars, we don’t really get to see each other either.”

The unlocking of the zoo grounds kicked off a day that brought a return to normalcy around Washington after the longest government shutdown in history. Most Smithsonian museums reopen at 10 a.m.

Museums that had been shuttered since the beginning of the year will begin to welcome visitors after lawmakers approved a bill that reopened the government for three weeks.

Several Smithsonian locations, including the National Gallery of Art and the zoo, remained open through the end of December — 11 days after the shutdown began — thanks to reserve funds. But on Jan. 2, they were forced to close their doors.

The live animal cameras that stream the daily comings and goings of giant pandas and naked mole rats went dark. Businesses near the zoo reported a dip in foot traffic and a drop in revenue.

“We really rely on the zoo even more (in January) than in other months, because people aren’t sending gifts and throwing parties as much as they do in December or February,” Yael Krigman, owner of Baked By Yael, a bakery across from the National Zoo, said earlier this month. “But people still go to the zoo – when it’s open.”

The shutdown cost the Smithsonian about $1.5 million in revenue during the first 10 days, and roughly $1 million a week for the past two weeks in food and beverage sales, Imax theater admissions and parking fees, officials said.