In 1807, two grizzly bear cubs briefly lived on the White House grounds. They are just some of the animals, wild and domestic, who made their home on the Mall. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, the land of the Mall was a grazing space for farm animals. The Mall has also been a home to wild animals brought to Washington for scientific research, especially before the establishment of the National Zoo. Local wild animals such as deer, squirrels, rabbits, beavers, foxes, and birds have made the Mall their home from the earliest years through today.
Was that a grizzly bear on the Mall?
In 1807, two grizzly bear cubs arrived on the Mall. Knowing that President Thomas Jefferson was interested in the plants and animals of the West, explorer and soldier Zebulon Pike sent the bears from the Rocky Mountains. The bears lived in an enclosure on the White House lawn, where people could visit them. Jefferson did not want to keep the bears, and in February 1808 he sent them to Charles Peale's museum in Philadelphia. This was not the last time that wild animals from western America would be on display on the Mall.
An interest in science and preservation brought wild animals to the Mall again in the 1880s. In 1886, William T. Hornaday, Chief Taxidermist for the Smithsonian, brought a bison calf back from a western expedition and kept him in a pen near the Arts and Industries building. Although the calf only lived for a few months, people enjoyed coming to see a bison. In 1887, the Smithsonian Department of Living Animals opened a small zoo behind the Smithsonian Castle with antelope, deer, bison, and other wild animals of North America. The animals were intended for visitor education and scientific study.
This deer may have been an escapee from the Department of Living Animals or it may have been a wild deer which found the Mall an inviting place. When this picture was taken in the late 1800s, the Mall included forested areas like this one that attracted a variety of wildlife. In addition to wild animals, stray dogs wandered the Mall, sometimes causing trouble. In 1889, a stray dog attacked one of the mountain goats kept in the Department of Living Animals.
Scientific research brought a variety of animals to the Mall and the landscape attracted wild animals, but farm and domestic animals continued to have a presence on the Mall. President William Howard Taft and his family kept cows at the White House during his administration from 1909 to 1913. President Woodrow Wilson also kept farm animals at the White House. His sheep helped lower groundskeeping costs during World War I by eat the grass on the lawns and their wool was sold to raise funds for the Red Cross.
Although there are no more sheep on the Mall and the Smithsonian has moved its animals to the National Zoo, wild animals continue to live there. In addition to squirrels and songbirds, the Mall is home to animals like red tailed hawks, foxes, osprey, and beavers. In fact, Paddles the Beaver is the mascot of the Cherry Blossom Festival because of real beavers on the Mall. In the late 1990s, beavers damaged a number of cherry trees, so the National Park Service installed small fences at the tree bases to protect both the beavers and trees.