Sleeping With Pandas

by September 11, 2012 at 9:00 am 1,511 0

From Rachel Nania. Check out her blog, Sear, Simmer & Stir. Follow Nania on Twitter @rnania, email her at rachel[AT]


Giant Panda, Tian Tian, eats his morning popsicle. (Rachel Nania)

From Rachel Nania. Check out her blog, Sear, Simmer & Stir. Follow Nania on Twitter @rnania, email her at rachel[AT]

While the rest of DC was busy dodging tornados and staying dry during Saturday’s derecho storm, I somehow found myself staking a “waterproof” tent into the saturated, muddy ground at the National Zoo.

That’s right. I was setting up camp for the night…. in the National Zoo. Just my husband and me spending time in nature with some of the world’s coolest animals (and an unexpected pack of eager Boy Scouts).

For those who seem a little surprised and confused on how one can sleep at the zoo, it’s through a program called Snore and Roar that Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ) hosts during the summer months.

The overnight included a flashlight-guided tour of the zoo, a keeper-led tour of an exhibit area and other animal-loving activities throughout the evening and morning. (Beware of the “other animal-loving activities.” I was expecting some transcending animal interaction where I would make best friends with a monkey and be the next Jane Goodall; I wasn’t expecting to dissect an owl pellet.)

Aside from derechos, owl pellets and Boy Scouts, the experience was quite fun. The evening flashlight tour brought out some of the Zoo’s nocturnal animals that hideout during the day. With the tour guides, I learned way more about the animals and their behaviors than I would from reading the signs outside each exhibit.

And while we didn’t make s’mores and sing Kumbaya by a campfire, I managed to achieve my idea of a quintessential nighttime camping experience by ending the evening in the tent with a bag of homemade cookies the latest Jason Segel movie on my iPad.

However, the highlight of the adventure was the keeper-led tour of an exhibit area the following morning. We signed up to be apart of the Asia Trail and on the tour I got to feed a sloth bear (and watch the bear brush her teeth), see the new fishing cat kittens, help wake up the otters and watch a giant panda eat a giant popsicle.

And the best part of the trip? I was less than a mile from my apartment the whole time. Who knew you could campout in the city and feel worlds away?

Note to readers: If you prefer fewer Boy Scouts and more cocktails, FONZ also hosts an “adults only” overnight that includes all of the animal interaction plus a wine and cheese event. For more information, visit the Snore and Roar website.

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