Theodore H. Reed joined the staff of the National Zoological Park (NZP) in 1955 when he accepted appointment as Veterinarian. When NZP Director William M. Mann retired in 1956, Reed became Acting Director. He was appointed Director in 1958. Reed continued to lead the NZP until 1983. At that time he was made Senior Advisor, in which capacity he remained until his retirement the following year.
Reed's twenty-seven year tenure as Director of the National Zoological Park was marked by tremendous change. In 1958, the NZP was in desperate need of revitalization. Its newest exhibition building was twenty-one years old, having been constructed in 1937 by the Public Works Administration. Many of the original buildings (dating to 1893) remained in use, and all were in need of repair. NZP administrative operations were housed in the dilapidated 1805 mansion, "Holt House," in dire need of renovation. Utilities were antiquated and unreliable. Inadequate appropriations prevented proper staffing of the Zoo. The professional staff lacked curators, research scientists, and adequate medical personnel.
Under Reed's direction, with assistance from the Friends of the National Zoo, a "Master Plan for the National Zoological Park" was prepared in 1961 by the firm Daniel, Mann, Johnson, and Mendenhall. The master plan was approved by the Smithsonian's Board of Regents in 1962. Federal appropriations began in fiscal year 1963 for a series of phased renovation and construction projects. Buildings renovated included the bird house (along with the construction of a new walk-through flight cage), 1965; the monkey house, 1975; the elephant house, 1975; the reptile house, 1981; and the small mammal house, 1983.
New construction carried out under the master plan included a complex for hardy-hoofed and delicate-hoofed stock, 1967; the Hospital-Research Building, 1969; the William M. Mann Memorial Lion-Tiger Exhibit, 1976; the Education-Administration Building, 1977; the Necropsy Building, 1979; the General Services and Parking Facility, 1978; and a new great-ape house, 1981. Among the several new animal exhibits built during the period were Smokey Bear Park, 1978; Beaver Valley, 1979; the North American Mammal exhibit, 1980; and Monkey Island, 1983.
The 1960s witnessed a new emphasis on developing programs to fulfill the NZP mission of scientific research, recreation, education, and conservation. Increased appropriations allowed for efficient management of the Zoo, as additional staff was hired and new offices, departments, and programs were established. A Scientific Research Department was created in the mid-1960s under the direction of John F. Eisenberg. The Department conducts important original research on aspects of animal behavior and communication, reproduction and breeding, and the structure of mammalian societies. Departmental staff also participated in several field studies in the United States and foreign countries.
Management of the NZP animal collection was reorganized and placed under the direction of a professional staff. Zoologists were hired as curators to oversee the exhibition and welfare of NZP animals. The animal health program was strengthened, and a new department of animal pathology was established. Several important additions to the animal collection were made during the period. Included were the acquisition of the white tigress, Mohini, in 1960; the gift of a pair of Komodo dragons from the government of Indonesia in 1964; and the arrival of a pair of giant pandas from the People's Republic of China in 1972. A strong breeding program was also emphasized at the Zoo. Rare or endangered species born at NZP included a snow leopard (the first born in the Western Hemisphere); lowland gorillas; white tigers; orangutans; bald eagles; a kiwi chick (the first born in captivity outside of Australia and New Zealand); and golden lion tamarins.
The education and information function of the NZP received new direction under Reed. A new system of signs and labels for animal exhibitions was developed, and public programs such as "Zoolab" were established. This aspect of the Zoo's mission benefitted considerably by the creation of the Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ). Established in 1958, FONZ is a non-profit organization designed to help develop community and public support in behalf of the NZP. Originally concerned with capital improvements and modernization, the focus of FONZ activities changed to education by the mid-1960s. Eventually, FONZ took charge of parking, food, and souvenir concessions at the NZP with the proceeds used to augment educational work and scientific research.
Perhaps the most important event in Reed's twenty-seven year career as NZP Director occurred in 1975 when the General Services Administration transferred over 3,000 acres of land in Front Royal, Virginia, to the Smithsonian Institution to establish the Conservation and Research Center (CRC). The goal of CRC is to conduct research on and develop breeding programs for endangered and exotic species.