When Invertebrate Exhibit closes, where will the animals go?

Alan Peters, who established the Invertebrate Exhibit at the National Zoo, says he wants to find the best place for the animals once the exhibit closes. (WTOP/Dick Uliano)

WASHINGTON — The search is on to find new homes for more than 100 different species that must be dispersed now that the National Zoo has decided to close its 27-year-old Invertebrate Exhibit.

“Once we close our doors, that is our business from here forward to find the best place for those animals,” says Alan Peters, the curator who established the exhibit in 1987.

Visitors waited in line for the last chance to walk through the building that Zoo Director Dennis Kelly says would cost about $5 million to renovate.

The building was constructed in the 1930s.

“You have to make priorities,” Peters says, “and that’s something we have to respect.”

There’s no doubt that the Giant Pandas get much of the National Zoo’s publicity, but the exhibit of spineless animals, including Cuttlefish, Blue Crabs, coral and butterflies seem to have had a profound impact on visitors.

“We’re very disappointed because this has been our favorite part of the zoo since we’ve been coming here for over 10 years,” says Russell Vassell, of Kensington, Md., visiting the zoo with his children.

“I like Invertebrate, my favorite would probably be a Cuttlefish and I wish that it would not close,” says Ian Sims, 10-years-old of Alexandria. “I also like the Jelly Fish and Octupuses … because they’re like fluid, they can move everywhere.”

Peters explains that Invertebrates “are really the basis of our natural world.”

“They aren’t animals that are just small and ignored,” Peters says, “but they are the basis of ecosystems and how things tie together.”

While curator Peters identifies potential homes at other zoos and organizations, some of the more than 100 species could take up residence at other places in the zoo.

For five years, D.C. resident Cecelia De Robertis has volunteered at the Invertebrate exhibit.

“This has been one of the best experiences of my entire life,” De Robertis says. “It’s been absolutely gratifying.”

As for the exhibit closing its doors?

“I am heartbroken,” De Robertis says.

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