National Zoo Autumn Conservation Festival (Warning: Contains an Image of Glitter Poo)

Once a year, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, VA opens its doors to the public for their Autumn Conservation Festival, giving the public an opportunity to meet the scientists and learn about their research. My friend Bobbie described it as, “like science fair, but everybody has a PhD.”

Where else can you…


pop on some Cryo-Gloves and freeze a grape with liquid nitrogen to demonstrate a problem inherent in preserving cells through cryogenics?


meet some of the folks in the lab, and ask them your burning questions about frog eyelids (frogs do have them, they’re clear, and the reason is unknown)?


and learn about animal reproductive technologies, including the use of elephant glitter poo?

Apparently glitter can pass through the digestive tract of an elephant without causing the animal harm, so if one needs to, say, track the hormone levels of a particular elephant for fertility purposes, by feeding her glitter one can both identify and easily find her feces in the field.

Glitter poo: It’s not just for unicorns!


Although the cool and misty weather kept the maned wolves out of sight, we still had a pretty view of the campus from the top of the hill,


and we got to check out the horse cemetery, a remnant of when this was a military site hosting cavalry.


If you get a chance to visit next autumn, I recommend purchasing tickets beforehand, as the event does sell out. But it’s not crowded, and you’ll have plenty of opportunities to try things and talk with the researchers.

Or, if you’re “done with science for today,” as Henry put it, you might also be able to find a good patch of mud to play in.





About rbpepper

Rebecca is an artist, writer, and photographer with degrees in Theater and Social Work, and is currently a Stay at Home Mom to her three kids. Some part of her house is always a mess, she lets her kids paint on the table and design their own costumes, and she makes excellent allergen-free cookies. She lives with her equally creative husband and children in a part of Virginia known for being "pretty close to Dulles Airport", and dreams of moving to an old farmhouse in New England.
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