National Zoo draws crowd of families for Earth Day, Easter Monday

Beautiful weather and a trifecta of celebrations drew a crowd to the National Zoo on Monday.

“It’s a very busy day. It’s Earth Day, it’s Earth Optimism Day and it is Easter Monday — all at the Smithsonian National Zoo,” zoo spokeswoman Devin Murphy said.

Friends of the National Zoo said 15,000 to 20,000 people came through the gates Monday.

Exhibits set up around the park included scientists demonstrating equipment, arts and crafts, live music and interactive education stations for kids. The goal? Teach young people about animals and the environment.

“People visiting the zoo today should hopefully have fun, learn something about animals and learn something about what scientists are doing to help species around the planet,” Murphy said.

The Zhang family, from Ames, Iowa, visited the National Zoo on Monday. (WTOP/Kristi King)
The Zhang family, from Ames, Iowa, visited the National Zoo on Monday. (WTOP/Kristi King) (WTOP/Kristi King)
One child in the elephant house joked that he would use this penny to buy an elephant he would name "Tiny." (WTOP/Kristi King)
One child in the elephant house joked that he would use this penny to buy an elephant he would name “Tiny.” (WTOP/Kristi King) (WTOP/Kristi King)
Children played a game called "Blind as a Kiwi," and learned what it was like to forage for food. (WTOP/Kristi King)
Children played a game called “Blind as a Kiwi,” and learned what it was like to forage for food. (WTOP/Kristi King)
Darren Moody of the Smithsonian Institution taught children about electricity. (WTOP/Kristi King)
Darren Moody of the Smithsonian Institution taught children about electricity. (WTOP/Kristi King)
Children learned how veterinarians check the health of black-footed ferrets. (WTOP/Kristi King)
Mechelle Prophet of Forestville, Maryland came to the zoo with her extended family and godchildren. (WTOP/Kristi King)
One of the people with Mechelle Prophet, of Forestville, Maryland, who came to the zoo with her extended family and godchildren. (WTOP/Kristi King)
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The Zhang family, from Ames, Iowa, visited the National Zoo on Monday. (WTOP/Kristi King)
One child in the elephant house joked that he would use this penny to buy an elephant he would name "Tiny." (WTOP/Kristi King)
Children played a game called "Blind as a Kiwi," and learned what it was like to forage for food. (WTOP/Kristi King)
Darren Moody of the Smithsonian Institution taught children about electricity. (WTOP/Kristi King)
Mechelle Prophet of Forestville, Maryland came to the zoo with her extended family and godchildren. (WTOP/Kristi King)

The tradition of spending Easter Monday at the zoo started with African-Americans in the early 1900s and continues to this day.

“I love coming to the zoo. This is the main attraction for us on the Easter Monday, is to come to the zoo,” said Sonia Kelly. She drove up from Colonial Beach, Virginia, to meet up with family. “It’s a traditional thing for the nation’s capital to meet here.”

Earth Day and Earth Optimism Day is always April 22, but those observances don’t always come on Easter Monday.

All of those events coming together Monday seemed like a natural fit for D.C. residents William Dickey and Theresa Smith. They were sitting together on a bench waiting for family to arrive.

“Easter Monday is the day of our Lord’s reverence, and we look at nature and all its beauty,” Dickey said, with Smith adding, “’cause God made it all.”

That led Dickey to conclude, “It’s all nature.”

Dickey, 72, said he’d come to the National Zoo on at least 60 Easter Mondays. Other families in attendance were building what looked to be lifelong traditions.

“These are all my godchildren. … This is our sixth year in a row,” Mechelle Prophet, of Forestville, Maryland, said, pointing to Steve, who just turned 6 years old. “We come because we love all these little events. It’s cool!”

Prophet’s group included friends and family of various ages. They had packed lunches and had an entire itinerary of animals they all wanted to visit.

Prophet talked as her godchildren scurried around her enjoying the black-footed ferret education station, doing stethoscope-assisted checkups on stuffed animals, playing a version of whack-a-mole with pop-up ferret heads and crawling through tubes representing animal burrows.

“So many different things dealing with nature — I love it,” Prophet said.

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