National Zoo to expand its Va. conservation campus

      FRONT ROYAL, Va. (AP) - The National Zoo is breaking ground on an expansion of its Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Virginia to house George Mason University students on site to work with scientists.

      A pact between the Smithsonian and George Mason signed in 2008 is paving the way for new residence halls, classrooms and laboratories at the 3,000-acre site in Front Royal. The groundbreaking is planned for Wednesday afternoon.

      The school and the Smithsonian have created a joint conservation studies program for undergraduate students. The semester-long program pairs the students with scientists to study the work of trying to save endangered species and conserve biodiversity.

      Students have had a hand in the births of endangered animals, including clouded leopard cubs last year.

      Graduate and professional courses are being offered at the site as well.