Visitors to the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C., are in for some old-fashioned fun with a modern twist – an all-new, stunningly ornate carousel powered entirely by the sun.
Named for the family foundation that provided $1.5 million of the project’s $2.3 million cost, the Speedwell Foundation Conservation Carousel features 58 colorful, hand-carved animals, including exotic and endangered species, as well as birds and animals of local interest.
As the carousel turns, riders are treated to painted panels depicting forest, grassland, savannah and aquatic habitats, while panels on the ceiling show different migratory bird species.
“First and foremost, the carousel is a great attraction for the whole family,” said Dennis Kelly, director of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. “But I’m hoping that the riders will be inspired by the conservation messages. Some of the gorgeous animals reflect the great conservation success stories of our time while others represent animals we are racing to save.”
Installed on the carousel’s roof are 162 solar panels donated by local Pepco Energy Services. In addition to giving the carousel a net-zero energy footprint, excess production is fed into the Zoo’s electrical grid.
An interactive digital dashboard allows guests to see how the carousel generates and uses solar energy in real time. A touch-screen display translates the energy the Conservation Carousel saves into more familiar terms, such as the number of trees saved, the hours of video games that could be played or the cups of coffee that could be brewed with the same amount of energy. Using the dashboard, visitors will also be able to see how much energy the carousel has saved since its debut.
Founded in 1889 and located in the heart of Washington, D.C., the 163-acre National Zoo is home to more than 2,000 animals and 400 different species. Perhaps best known for its giant pandas, on loan from China, the Zoo hosts roughly 2 million visitors each year.
The National Zoo is open every day of the year except for December 25, and admission is free. Tickets for the Conservation Carousel are $3 each, with all proceeds supporting animal care and the Zoo’s conservation science initiatives.