Smokey Bear Exhibit Opens at Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Forest Service Celebrates 75 Years of Smokey’s Fire-Prevention Efforts

News Release, Smithsonian National Zoo

A new Smokey Bear outdoor exhibit opened at Smithsonian’s National Zoo today, May 23, inviting visitors to look back in time to the mid-20th century, when a badly burned black bear cub was rescued from a devastating forest fire and placed under the Zoo’s care. Archival photographs and 14 colorful posters line the pathway in front of Smokey Bear’s former habitat, teaching visitors about his legacy as an ambassador for wildfire prevention and wildlife conservation. The entrance, located near Lemur Island, is marked by a 6-foot-tall statue of the iconic character that shares his name. This exhibit was made possible by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service, which is celebrating 75 years of the character’s campaign to reduce the incidences of human-caused fires.

“I can think of no one better to tell the tale of how humans and nature are inextricably linked than our very own Smokey Bear,” said Steve Monfort, John and Adrienne Mars Director of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. “His story is truly inspirational, and even though decades have passed since Smokey Bear lived here, the message of his infamous character—protecting animals and their habitats—is timeless. We hope visitors come away with a deeper understanding of the Smithsonian’s role in helping the global community protect these critical ecosystems through our forest fire ecology research.”

As visitors stroll through the exhibit, they will see the rich stories of Smokey Bear the character and Smokey Bear the Zoo resident take shape. A series of colorful posters line the pathway, including a reproduction of the 1944 artwork that launched the Smokey Bear Wildfire Preventioncampaign. That year, the United States began a national wildfire prevention campaign to protect forest resources during World War II. The Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention Committee chose a powerful yet friendly bear to speak for the forests. Posters show Smokey’s character through the decades, offering friendly tips on the proper way to extinguish campfires and advice on how to be a good steward of the environment. Several of the iconic Smokey posters, created by Forest Service artist Rudy Wendelin, helped shape the public identity of this beloved character.

Complementing this outdoor gallery are bilingual panels in English and Spanish highlighting the real Smokey Bear’s story and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s (SCBI) forest ecology research. In 1950, a black bear cub was found clinging to a tree in Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico after a devastating forest fire. At the time, he was estimated to be 3 months old. The cub was dubbed “Smokey Bear,” inspired by the Smokey Bear Wildfire Prevention campaign. After receiving treatment for wounds to his paws and hind quarters, Smokey was flown to Washington, D.C., where he became one of the most famous residents in the Zoo’s 130-year history.

As the campaign grew, Smokey Bear became a star and a must-see animal at the Zoo. Children sent the Zoo thousands of letters addressed to Smokey pledging their support for his junior rangers program. The volume of letters was so great that the United States issued Smokey Bear his own ZIP code—an honor bestowed only to him and the President of the United States. Although Smokey Bear the Zoo resident died in 1976, the character lives on through the campaign. His message—“Only You Can Prevent Wildfires”—is as relevant today as it was 75 years ago.

To study how species interact with their environment and track how ecosystems respond to global changes—including wildfires—scientists at SCBI’s Conservation Ecology Center develop new and advanced analytical tools. At the species level, SCBI scientists integrate intensive field surveys with animal tracking and satellite mapping to better understand the processes that control species movement and habitat declines. On a global scale, SCBI partners with networks such as Virginia Working Landscapes, Forest Global Earth Observatory (ForestGEO) and National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) to develop new analytical and statistical frameworks for data analysis to answer critical conservation questions. Using this technology, SCBI scientists create conservation scenarios that help practitioners and decision makers identify strategies for preserving ecosystem health and biodiversity. 

For more information about the Smokey Bear exhibit, visit the Zoo’s website. Follow the Zoo on FacebookTwitter and Instagram for the latest updates regarding animal and exhibit news.

The Southern Maryland Chronicle is a local, small business entrusted to provide factual, unbiased reporting to the Southern Maryland Community. While we look to local businesses for advertising, we hope to keep that cost as low as possible in order to attract even the smallest of local businesses and help them get out to the public. We must also be able to pay employees(part-time and full-time), along with equipment, and website related things. We never want to make the Chronicle a “pay-wall” style news site.

To that end, we are looking to the community to offer donations. Whether it’s a one-time donation or you set up a reoccurring monthly donation. It is all appreciated. All donations at this time will be going to furthering the Chronicle through hiring individuals that have the same goals of providing fair, and unbiased news to the community. For now, donations will be going to a business PayPal account I have set-up for the Southern Maryland Chronicle, KDC Designs. All business transactions currently occur within this PayPal account. If you have any questions regarding this you can email me at

Thank you for all of your support and I hope to continue bringing Southern Maryland the best news possible for a very long time. — David M. Higgins II

© 2019 The Southern Maryland Chronicle. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.