Institute invites public to see endangered animals this weekend

By Katie Demeria

Local residents itching to see red panda cubs, clouded leopards, black footed ferrets or kiwis have the perfect opportunity to do so this weekend.

The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal will host its annual Autumn Conservation Festival from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

The festival, according to Senior Curator Paul Marinari, is meant to share much of the institute’s research with the general public.

“It’s a great opportunity for folks in the local community, or those visiting the area, to come out and meet our scientists and researchers,” Marinari said.

Several specimens will be available to view, including five of the seven red panda cubs that were just born this year, though they will be brought out at varying times in the day. Visitors can also tour the institute’s bird wing, where some endangered bird species dwell.

They can also tour an amphibian research area, learning about some native salamanders and frogs.

Two kiwi presentations will take place every day at the campus’ dining hall, as well, so participants can learn about the endangered birds.

“Of course, it’s always up to the animals whether they want to be seen or not,” Marinari said. “But a little more than half of our collection will be on display.”

Among the various booths set up in central campus, the veterinary staff will have an area at which participants can play veterinarian.

They will see the tools veterinarians use to treat their animals, including the X-ray box used to diagnose pregnancies. It is the same box that researchers train mane wolves and cheetahs to walk into, allowing the staff to determine what animal is pregnant and how many cubs to expect.

“It runs the gamut between field ecology and the work we do with captive breeding and reproductive sciences,” Marinari said.

Live music will also be provided, as well as games and the opportunity to purchase refreshments.

“It’s a great opportunity to actually have people meet the researchers, the folks that are in the labs, who are in the fields, who aren’t always available to meet with people face to face,” Marinari said.

Those unable to make it this weekend can still participate in a lecture series. Free lectures are given at 7 p.m. every Wednesday in April and October, Marinari said. The series includes speakers from the institute, as well as some external organizations, and provides more education regarding what conservation work is being done.

“You know, we’re all conservationists in one way or another,” Marinari said. “We may not all work for the Smithsonian, but every day we make choices that ties into our local environment, the planet, and the health of the planet. So it’s really important for us to share what we do and let people know, and complement the things they’re already doing.”

Parking for the Autumn Conservation Festival is $30 per car of six people or less, with an additional $5 added for every extra person. The lecture series is free. The institute is located at 1500 Remount Road, Front Royal.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or

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