The National Zoo will keep its online pass requirement 'indefinitely' Zoo Director Brandie Smith told Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton the requirement helps the staff provide an "overall better and safer visit" to the zoo.
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The National Zoo will keep its online pass requirement 'indefinitely'

Giant panda Xiao Qi Ji at the National Zoo in D.C. angel n./Flickr hide caption

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The Smithsonian's National Zoo will stick with its policy requiring online passes to enter the facility "indefinitely," despite pushback from D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, according to a zoo spokesperson.

Norton on Tuesday sent a letter to the National Zoo's director, Brandie Smith, asking her to "re-evaluate" the zoo's requirement for visitors to reserve passes online in advance. She said she's heard from residents that the requirement, instituted during the pandemic, is restrictive. Norton added in her statement that she's concerned the online passes prevent spontaneous visits for locals and tourists, and deter those who don't have a smartphone or reliable internet access.

Smith wrote in her response that the zoo has updated its website language to clarify that same-day mobile passes are available for those who don't reserve them in advance, and that staff are available to assist visitors who can't reserve passes online.

She did not, however, say the zoo would change the policy overall.

"As part of our COVID response, we learned the value visitor passes can bring to our Zoo and local community as they enable us to observe and manage visitor capacity, reduce local traffic congestion and most importantly, provide for an overall better and safer visit to the Zoo," Smith wrote. "We have also learned and applied best practices from other Smithsonian units who successfully use passes as part of their entry experience."

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The National Zoo is one of four Smithsonian facilities or museums that require advance reservations — only two others in D.C., the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Air and Space Museum, require free passes. (Cooper Hewitt, the Smithsonian's design museum in New York, is the only location to require paid passes.)

Smith added in her letter that the zoo is committed to safety and accessibility and will "continue to monitor" its visitor policies. She said the zoo hasn't received many complaints about its system.

Norton, however, told The Washington Post she's received a significant number of comments from D.C. residents about the policy.

"There's concern that there's difficulty in gaining access," Norton told the Post. "I want to give residents a chance to give me more feedback on whether they feel inconvenienced."

Norton said she'll discuss the situation with locals at an upcoming town hall.

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