Despite one widely publicized setback, the National Zoo has had a lot of success breeding its wide assortment of animals in captivity. So even as the famed giant pandas let another year go by without reproducing, a new batch of babies arrived at the zoological park this spring.
The easiest to spot is the baby giraffe, born not quite three weeks ago. It's six feet tall and awaiting a name from a zoo patron, who bid at an auction for the right to name the new arrival. The twin bear cubs are the shyest additions and would not make an appearance during a photographer's recent tour.
The prairie dogs, with 18 new offspring, are both visible and venturesome, popping up out of their dirt mound homes for a look at gawking visitors.
Zoo keepers consider breeding to be one of the zoo's principal missions, along with recreation, education, conservation and research.
"Breeding programs in zoos serve three general purposes," said David Wildt, a reproductive physiologist at the zoo. "It allows us to replenish our own collections when animals die or are transferred to other zoos; the offspring produced can be furnished to other zoos for exhibition purposes, and, from a conservation standpoint, breeding our own animals here means it will be unnecessary to take animals from the wild."
There are about 400 species of mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles at the zoo, and the collection now totals nearly 2,600 animals. But very few, especially among the mammal exhibits, were born in the wild.
The animals may evoke distant lands and unusual climates, but many were born and reared right here in Washington or at the zoo's conservation and research center in Front Royal, Va. Other zoo babies on view here include turtles, gazelles, antelopes, lizards and monkeys.