Theodore Reed, 90, ex-chief of National Zoo

Posted: July 13, 2013

Theodore "Ted" Reed, 90, 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 of complications from Alzheimer's disease at a nursing home in Milford, Del., 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.

Mr. 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 Institution to set up what is now the zoo's Conservation Biology Institute, which conducts breeding research and programs for endangered and exotic species.

The giant pandas Mr. Reed obtained for the zoo in 1972 - a male named Hsing-Hsing and a female named Ling-Ling - were reportedly the first in the United States in more than 20 years. Moreover, they had political clout. They were a goodwill gesture from communist China after then-President Richard Nixon's landmark visit there to renew diplomatic ties. Nixon reportedly selected the National Zoo over at least four other big-city zoos because it was taxpayer funded.

Mr. Reed was also responsible for the zoo's acquisition of an Indian white tigress named Mohini in 1960 -the only ever exhibited in the country at the time - and a pair of Komodo dragons from the Indonesian government in 1964.

He successfully urged the creation in 1958 of Friends of the National Zoo, a membership-supported scientific and educational group for the zoo, which does not charge admission.

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