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Eat your heart out, Boston! We have our own Big Dig in Washington, DC, at the National Zoo, and ours has elephants in it! Well, maybe it’s not quite as Big. But it’s certainly been transforming the core of the zoo for the past fifteen years—on every visit you have to navigate construction equipment and major piles of dirt, although not always the same piles—and it ain’t over yet.
First we got big splashy Amazonia Habitat with its science gallery; then Think Tank, for research into primate (as opposed to primary) education, with the crowd-wowing outdoor overhead O-Line for the use of orangutans when they decide to move between buildings. This was followed by completely redesigned panda exhibits to welcome for their honeymoon a new young panda couple, parents of hugely popular Tai Shan. Then came Asia Trail, with its green roofs, convincingly sculpted rocks, and several new endangered species for the zoo’s species preservation program.
Now the major project under way is Elephant Trails, a research and breeding program to preserve the endangered Asian elephant, which will provide an expanded herd with a more natural and environmentally friendly environment. Phase 1 opened this summer, and on a recent walk I had a look at the elephants munching breakfast near a big new stepped pond, in well-kept rolling grassy fields, like a high-end retirement home. I don’t know what the elephants think, but I’m ready to move in. You can learn more about it at the zoo’s website, and even make a donation and get your name on a plaque.