Bao Bao, the four and a half month old female giant panda cub sits in her indoor habitat at the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014. (Charles Dharapak/AP)
January 16

I’ve walked through the National Zoo three or four times a week since 1984. There are fewer animals now and far more concession stands and buildings, and there hasn’t been a break in construction in a couple of decades. I miss the hippos, the rhinos, the giraffes. The zoo’s director has explained that shrinking budgets have forced hard choices: for example, improve the habitat for elephants but reduce the variety of large animals that have characterized zoos in the past. Our National Zoo has become a much less interesting place, and today you can be in and out in an hour.

As disappointing as this is, it’s not nearly as demoralizing as the elitist policy that the zoo now has.Members of Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ), who have donated funds, enjoy privileges, even though the zoo is supported by tax dollars. While one would expect that taxpayers would receive the same treatment as FONZ contributors, only these zoo “members” were permitted to view the baby panda on Jan. 13. Hence, tourists from all over were turned away.

Elitism is alive and well at our National Zoo.

Diana Hellinger,Washington