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The National Zoo Shouldn’t Fall for Security Theater

A proposal to ramp up security at the National Zoo would undermine a historic design that weaves nature into the lives of Washingtonians.
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Gary Cameron/Reuters

There are plenty of tourist traps in the nation’s capital, but the National Zoological Park isn’t one of them. Tucked into a residential part of northwest Washington, D.C., it’s a cherished local amenity. Folks who live close to the zoo in the neighborhood of Mount Pleasant fall asleep to the sounds of lions roaring. Residents of the District—who follow the sex lives of the zoo’s giant pandas as if they were the stars of a telenovela—were collectively dismayed to find out last week that the giant panda Mei Xiang was only pseudopregnant.

But most of all, they enjoy the zoo as one of the city’s best parks. So it came as a shock to locals when the Washington Business Journal reported that major changes might be headed to the National Zoo. On Thursday, the Smithsonian Institution will bring a proposal before the National Capital Planning Commission to bolster its security apparatus by adding perimeter fencing. The Smithsonian aims to radically scale back the zoo’s current pedestrian entrances (from 13 to 3). Eventually, security checkpoints will feature magnetometers for screening every visitor.