The 63-year relationship between Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Friends of the National Zoo, known as FONZ, is over because of pandemic-related financial pressures.
“This is a hard day. It’s a hard day for FONZ; it’s a hard day for the zoo as well,” said Pamela Baker-Masson, National Zoo spokeswoman.
“COVID just catapulted us into a financial situation where it was untenable for FONZ and untenable for us to continue in the model, the partnership, that we had,” she said.
Friends of the National Zoo is still exploring whether its new strategy will involve staying close with the Smithsonian and the D.C. community or expanding more broadly.
“FONZ is not leaving — we are reinventing,” said Lynn Mento, executive director of Friends of the National Zoo.
There will be a new name, location and form, but not everything is changing.
“We are holding true to our mission to help save endangered animals and to inspire the next generation of conservationists,” Mento said. “We are so dedicated to this community and the children and the families and the work and the animals that we’re going to be here — we’re going to be here in some form.”
The transition of zoo memberships, previously handled by FONZ, will continue seamlessly.
“All benefits transfer; everything will be the same,” Baker-Masson said.
“As we can gather large groups safely — we will be doing that again offering similar programs to our members that they had before,” Baker-Masson said.
An undetermined number of FONZ employees will be hired by National Zoo after the zoo reopens and pandemic-related restrictions lift.
Baker-Masson believes the zoo experience will be the same for most visitors when they’re allowed to return, even if it’s managed a bit differently.
“The hardest part is that we’ve worked side-by-side with colleagues we care deeply about and we formed friendships,” Baker-Masson said. “We just care a lot about the people and we’ve been through a lot — all of us, FONZ and the zoo — having to say goodbye to people in the past year. So, that’s the hardest part.”
Those who are interested in learning more can get answers to FONZ-related Frequently Asked Questions, such as about camps and classes, online.