National Zoo attracts families on Easter Monday


The Johnsons, from left, Xayonna, 3, Christian, 6, and Tiasia, 7, get a hug from a panda dressed as the Easter bunny at the Smithsonian's National Zoo on Monday. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
April 21

The National Zoo is typically filled with elephants, zebras and dragonflies. On Monday however, animal enthusiasts were introduced to a new species roaming freely throughout the park — the Easter Panda.

The hybrid panda-bunny, a panda body and head with rabbit ears, was brought out for the zoo’s Easter Monday festivities, which included the traditional African American Family Celebration.

“This is my third straight year coming to the African American celebration,” said Leah Flemons, the mother of two young children. “My kids don’t even remember coming last year, but they really enjoy it. There’s lots of activities and games. We don’t even see much of the animals, they’re just here for the fun.”

There was a water balloon toss, special animal exhibits and, of course, an egg hunt. In addition to the games, there was dancing and live storytelling.

In a shift from years past, the National Zoo expanded the focus of the day, which has been a tradition in the city’s African American community. The event was officially billed as “Easter Monday: A Washington Family Tradition.”

“In earlier years, there used to be a lot more stuff going on. I saw the sign today, and it didn’t even mention the African American celebration,” said Laurel Brooks, who has attended the celebration many times. “This used to have a lot of meaning. But I guess they’re trying to expand it for everyone.”

Brooks brought a cousin, Martamique Ajoku, with her to the zoo. Ajoku, a visitor from North Carolina, considered the event a success.

“It’s great to see so much diversity out here,” she said. “There are so many different families out and about. It would be great to have a big African American celebration, but it’s nice to see so many people at the zoo.”

The zoo was overflowing with visitors on a beautiful day. The chatter of children filled the air, and it seemed as if every family splurged on ice cream cones or frozen lemonade.

Animals, the stars of the show, did their part. The zoo’s famous panda exhibit was a huge hit. Visitors took their seats well in advance for a chance to observe elephants. And those able to deal with the smell got up close and personal with the gorillas.

“We’re really just here for the fun and games,” said Emily Roselli, who brought her kids to the zoo. “The only complaint I have is they won’t let my kids take home the eggs they found in the hunt. We had to return them.”

In any case, zoo succeeded in bringing people from all backgrounds out to the park. After all, there’s only one day a year to observe the Easter Panda in its natural habitat.­

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