Theodore Reed, vet made
National Zoo a big draw
Theodore "Ted" Reed, who transformed the National Zoo into an international destination, most notably through the acquisition of two Chinese giant pandas that sparked Washington's love affair with the black-and-white bears, died July 2 at a nursing home in Milford, Del. He was 90.
The cause was complications from Alzheimer's disease, said his son, Mark Reed, executive director of the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kan.
Tall, bespectacled and with a full red beard, Theodore Reed was a 34-year-old veterinarian in 1956 when he took over the modest-size National Zoo in Washington. At the time, he was among the nation's youngest directors of an animal park, and during the next 27 years, he vastly broadened its scope and ambition.
I. Michael Heyman, who served as chief executive of the Smithsonian Institution and died in 2011, once described Reed as the director "who coaxed a sleepy part of the Institution to new life. . . . It was Reed who expanded the role of the zoo to vital research in veterinary science and the study of animal behavior."
Reed created the zoo's Scientific Research Department in the mid-1960s to study animal behavior, reproduction and breeding. In 1975, he oversaw the transfer of 3,000 acres in Front Royal, Va., to the Smithsonian to set up what is now the zoo's Conservation Biology Institute, which conducts breeding research and programs for endangered and exotic species.
Reed was also responsible for the zoo's acquisition of an Indian white tigress named Mohini in 1960.
He successfully urged the creation in 1958 of Friends of the National Zoo, a membership-supported scientific and educational group. Heyman called FONZ "a bedrock of support" for the zoo, which does not charge admission. He also presided over the zoo's renovation and construction projects, including a lion-tiger exhibit in 1976 and Beaver Valley in 1979.
For the public, the acquisition of giant pandas helped transform the zoo into a major draw for locals and out-of-towners. A few American zoos had hosted the bamboo-munching endangered species decades earlier -- the Bronx Zoo in New York and Brookfield Zoo near Chicago had them in the 1930s.