Politics can be a circus. Now, Washington DC’s National Zoo is among the casualties of the ongoing federal government shutdown. The Zoo closed its doors this week to the public, and turned off its much-loved Panda Cams, followed by panda-fans around the world. CGTN’s Roee Ruttenberg explains.
On a typical day, there’d be a steady stream of people entering these gates–families, school groups, tourists from around world. The Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington welcomes more than two million people each year.
But now, its gates are closed. The government-backed zoo doesn’t charge admission, and with the shutdown now well into its second week, there’s no incoming revenue stream to cover the cost of keeping it open to the public.
This sign at the front entrance greets disappointed visitors: “All Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo are closed today due to the government shutdown.”
These European PhD students, who were hoping to spend their last hours in DC at the zoo, didn’t see the online notifications.
The Waheed family came from Florida. They only found out about the closure when they arrived. Tariq Waheed says his son loves animals and hasn’t stopped crying since they arrived at the locked gates.
The Robson live here, but have family visiting from Madagascar. “We’re really disappointed,” said Nevo Robson, adding that she was looking forward to sharing the facility with her relatives.
On social media, Zoo officials tweeted: “We will update our operating status as soon as the situation is resolved.”
But it’s not the first time a government budget battle has shut it down.
“No big deal. We were in DC during the Obama days” tweets one woman – recalling the 2013 government shutdown.
Another writes: “Sorry to hear this. We are all thinking of [the animals].”
Indeed, the Washington zoo’s giant pandas have a giant global following. That’s largely thanks to a 24/7 camera that streams live images of Tian Tian, Mei Xiang, and Bei Bei to tens of thousands of followers around the world. Now, the much-loved Panda-Cam is dark. The broadcast needs resources to run it are staff who have mainly been deemed ‘non-essential.’
Zoo keepers ARE considered ‘essential’, however, so that means the pandas, and all of the other animals here are still being fed and cared for. By law, these “essential” employees must still come to work, though they won’t get paid until the shutdown ends. While there may be disappointment outside the gates, the public can rest assured that the zoo continues to function on the inside.