Thursday, November 4, 2010

Zoo Semi-Apologizes for Loud Party

Last Friday, the National Zoo hosted a party that so loud it could be heard for blocks. Neighbors complained on the Cleveland Park Listserv and to the Zoo director, pointing out that not only was the noise bad for the neighbors, but it must have been disturbing for the animals.  The Zoo sent a letter to the neighbors, a semi-apology, claiming that the incredibly loud event did "not stress our animals," and that the Zoo won't hold any events past 11pm every again "except in rare and extraordinary circumstances" because "the Zoo must seek revenue generating events."

The Zoo noted that it gave "our outdoor animals the option of staying outside or choosing their indoor shelter." I wonder how the option to stay indoors was presented to the animals. Before the party started?  Once the loud noise began?  Not that it really mattered because this party was so loud that it penetrated homes blocks away.

Here is the text of the Zoo director's letter:

Dear Neighbor,

On behalf of the Smithsonian's National Zoo, I would like to apologize for any disturbance caused to you or your household stemming from our Halloween event, Night of the Living Zoo, held on Friday, October 29, 2010. We pride ourselves on our good standing in the community and regret any inconvenience we may have caused.

I assure you that the event did not stress our animals. Their safety and well-being are our primary concern, and our professional staff and experienced interpreters were present during the event to provide ongoing assessments. As a follow-up, I have requested a specific animal care report to address the neighbor concerns raised this weekend. This report indicated that our animals displayed no signs of stress throughout the weekend. Our diurnal animals remained asleep and nocturnal animals seemed unconcerned by the noise outside. We give our outdoor animals the option of staying outside or choosing their indoor shelter.

We plan carefully for the safety and well-being of our staff and guests as we continue to offer unique venues at the Zoo. The Night of the Living Zoo event was an opportunity to introduce our living collection as well as our research and conservation work to a new group of guests.

From this perspective, the event was extremely successful, and we were able to raise necessary funds to support our operations and conservation research.

In this difficult economic climate, the Zoo must seek revenue generating events. The Friends of the National Zoo, our member support organization, hosted this event for the first time in 2009. It was deemed highly successful, and we received no complaints from the surrounding community. I will continue to carefully review each and every event proposed for the National Zoo.

In fact, I've already made a few decisions surrounding special events at the Zoo. No event will last past 11 p.m. except in rare and extraordinary circumstances. We will more closely monitor noise levels and adjust accordingly, as we did last Friday. We will only host events appropriate to our mission and do everything we can to minimize disruptions to the community. We will also examine ways in which we can communicate better with the community. Finally, we will not host an adult Halloween event in 2011 and instead, will take the time to study what we need to do in order to realize all our event goals.

New to Washington, D.C., I, too, have chosen to live in this neighborhood which is within walking distance to the Zoo. As a resident, I want to enjoy the benefits a wonderful institution like the National Zoo can offer. Your concerns are important and valid to me as your neighbor and also as the director of the Zoo.

Again, please accept my apology and thank you for your patience as we strive to do our best at the Smithsonian's National Zoo.


Dennis W. Kelly
Smithsonian Institution National Zoological Park


  1. You know, it's only one night out of the year. Some people need to get a life.

  2. To the anonymous person who snarls, "Get a life": Why shouldn't we ask someone who holds a loud party to be a good neighbor? Especially when it's a government agency that is supported by us. And it's not just one day of the year, either: The Zoo holds quite a few evening events that draw big crowds. What's wrong with asking people to be considerate? If anyone needs to step back and calm down, it's you, Anonymous. It's not just okay for people to ask each other to be nice, it's a good thing.

  3. Let's be real. This isn't about the animals at all. The worst thing for the animals is that they live in an urban zoo. Really, this is about you thinking you're entitled to suburban levels of quiet despite living in a major city. For most of us, the occasional loud event in our vicinity is a trade-off we accept for access the city's amenities. A box of earplugs is about 5 bucks at CVS if it really bothers you that much.

  4. Until a year ago, I lived by the Zoo. I do not miss the crowds and screaming kids. I do not miss coming home and seeing babies having their diapers changed in front of the entrance to my building (nor do I miss finding said diapers randomly along the sidewalk). I don't miss clueless moms walking on the sidewalk, three strollers abreast and giving me dirty looks when I tried to walk on the same sidewalk. I don't miss trying to get on the metro amongst the screaming, and crying and panicked parents holding hands in obnoxious chains to make sure their precious bundles weren't abducted and sold into sex slavery.

    I miss Vace and Bardeo, but that's about it.

  5. Thank you anonymous. I have neighbors that will throw 1-2 extremely loud parties a year and thats it. Since they are absolutely perfect neighbors for the other 363-364 days a year, we suck it up. If you really care about the zoo and its future, you'd welcome new ideas and events that would increase visitors and revenue. But this doesn't directly affect your real estate value, only your 15-hour woodley park sleep cycle. I wish all of you the same level of energy in helping the zoo find new ways to appeal to children and adults alike as you do with taking umbrage.

  6. Also, most importantly. The Zoo should not have to hold itself accountable to people who post complaints alledging to be neighbors, since their anonymity is in itself unaccountable.

  7. How much did the Zoo make from this party, and how much did it spend on overtime and other costs? It would be good if the Zoo disclosed this information rather than just asserting that these events are important money makers.

  8. A link for Lauren...

    That's a good realtor in the Virginia suburbs. Might be a good place for you to look into. With all due respect, you live in a big city. You might want to learn how to handle the noise that goes with living in a city, or move to the suburbs.

  9. Anonymous, why are you so hostile? Why can't a neighbor gently ask a big party-giving institution to be more considerate without being told to "move out"! Your reasoning is like the old "Love it or leave it" bumper sticker that suggested that Americans can't criticize their country. People who love a place, as I love this city, want to make it a better place for all to live. Lowering the volume level is one way to do that. Tolerating criticism and accepting divergent viewpoints telling people to "get out" is another.

  10. Quality of life is important in a city, too. That's why cities have noise regulations, for instance. And the Zoo definitely violated DC's noise laws last Friday night.

    Throwing out cliches and saying that somebody should move to the suburbs if they don't like loud noise diminishes the important precept that cities should be places that people can enjoy living...and sleeping.

  11. People, people. You LIVE IN A CITY!!! Get it? Thanks for stomping on the fundraising efforts of FONZ which is really hurting right now for cash. And after you've maked your King Size bed, go for a jog along Beach Drive or Klingle Road which you so conveniently set up as your own personal playground.

  12. What a shame. I heard it was a great event, and fundraiser, and now they are knee-jerk reacting and canceling it for next year.

    The zoo has been a pretty good neighbor, and I do not know why people needed to complain like they did. I hope they reconsider and not give in to all the wet blankets on the CP listserv.

  13. First of all, to be clear, there are multiple anonymous commenters here. Second, while DC does have noise ordinances, the Zoo is on federal property and therefore is covered exclusively by federal jurisdiction. Finally, even if this were District property, part of the point everyone is trying to make is that part of being a good neighbor is giving other people the benefit of the doubt on occasion. The party went til midnight. What'd you lose, maybe two hours of sleep? Is that really worth getting worked up about if it's not a regular occurrence?

  14. Wow, I thought the Zoo was cool because they had these events. Now there are some whiny pretentious people out there who think they deserve a night of sleep without a sound bothering them. This is the real world, people. Like pretty much everyone else says, deal with it. I'm sure a lot of the people in this area have to deal with street noise. Should we take cars off the street? I'm sure if you are a crazy f'in liberal you'd say yes. But the world doesn't revolve around you. Deal with it. Fairies.

  15. When I have my own parties (which I did a couple of weeks ago) I ended our outside activities at midnight. I know my neighbors have kids and later than that is obnoxious. My wife and I don't live in a frat house. Still, if my neighbors had complained I'd have been annoyed. We have a party like that about once a year. If it was a weekend then who cares.

    Just because we live in a city doesn't give us the right to be as loud as we want and tell people to get over it or move to the burbs.

  16. While I'm using Anonymous too, I'm none of the previous posters. I too live in CP adjacent to the Zoo. I'm a lifelong urban resident of 2 other, bigger cities (including spending 6 yrs living next to - and volunteering at - a famous tourist destination elsewhere) before moving to DC and CP 4 years ago. Endless noise, gross tourists, unruly traffic and the like stopped bothering me long ago. But after several dealings with it, I too find the Ntl Zoo imperious and disinterested in being a good institutional neighbor. Which is odd since probably a good portion of its critical volunteer base live in walking distance.

    I don't agree with the various "my way or the highway" comments here but think there are some easy, fair compromises that could be reached if the Zoo put a little hands-on work into it rather than hide behind its Federal exemptions. For instance:

    1) Most of us don't obsessively proactively track the Zoo's activities. So the recent night event was a rude surprise - a situation no one would want in their neighborhood. How hard would it have been to let surrounding neighbors know? For us, the question remains: what's next and how often? The Zoo certainly has enough PR staff to create, promote and manage a simple Yahoo group or other alert system for interested neighbors - even neighborhood schools can do this. You sign up, you get notifications and - more important - your opinions are solicited. And if it were smart, the Zoo could also use such an online community to drive more volunteerism and donations.
    2) When's the last time the Zoo attempted to connect with the neighborhood on a non-conflict basis? In my 4 years here, I've never gotten any outreach from them. This is community relations PR 101. Host an event for us - keep it inexpensive or get local restaurants to serve as patrons - and tell us what potential plans are, how these align with goals, seek our input a little, get some consensus and even go ahead and do your fundraising-and-volunteer pitch. If I thought for a minute that the Zoo didn't believe it was operating in its own remote suburban compound, I'd be less judgmental about noisy upcoming events.
    3) Finally, show us a little love. If it has a general event, create some simple special insider's benefit for neighbors - this is where that sign-up Yahoo group pays off. Give us a few dollars off a ticket, a little patch of preferred seating at a concert or an hour's early entrance. Make us care more about you rather than see you as some anonymous bureaucratic institution. When I lived next to and volunteered at the other national site, we supported the neighbors and vice versa. They liked us so much that they brought us food, helped when there were problems and chipped in when extra hands were needed unexpectedly for events or holidays. In fact, one guy who lived nearby would bring me gin and tonics in a 7-Up bottle on summer evenings when tourists weren't around and we could just hang out and enjoy the setting. Now that's good neighborly relations.

  17. Several things about you all just picking 'Anonymous' as the way to post here. One, it makes you all look like you're all the same crazed obnoxious perosn. Also, you're not anonymous to the owner of the site; as they can easily log your IP address, browser type, and a lot of other specific inofrmation about your session (unless you have 'taken measures'). There's often enuff there to keep track of which posts you make, maybe even correlate with other sites you visit and so on

    So look, just pick some fake name like mine and then we can get to know you as a coherent (or incoherent) entity with some pseudoexistence. Of course, there's nothing to keep someone else from using EverMoreAnonymous and confusing the issue

    BTW I vote for a quieter ZOO

  18. I agree: living in a city means extra noise and inconvenience sometimes -- as well as lots of good things (which is why we do it). I love the zoo and have been a member for years. And, I was one of the people who called that night to ask the zoo police to ask the band to turn it down. Our house was actually vibrating and shaking as if our next door neighbor was blasting the stereo. This was way beyond earplugs, much louder than the many other events the zoo has had.

    I give the zoo the benefit of the doubt that they did not know the impact it had, I believe that they were keeping an eye on the animal's welfare, and I expect it will be better next time. But previous posters: you can be anonymous but why be so nasty and unkind about it?

  19. Having nothing to do with the zoo, it's just easier to post as "anonymous" as it does not require one to sign in to whatever email account he/she has. Even if you post the quicky "anonymous" way (as I usually do), you can sign your name (or initials, or whatever) at the end of your post. You can even make up a name, which can be great sport.

    And for the record, I urge more civilized discourse. People can disagree and still be respectful. That's what, allegedly, makes us different from the animals in the occasionally noisy zoo! :-) The world's a hostile enough place already.

    Max Power