- The Washington Times - Friday, December 7, 2001

One of Washington's most famous couples was feted at a major party Wednesday night.

Although the National Zoo's giant pandas, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, were no doubt at home asleep for the occasion, many of their most devoted friends were at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel celebrating their first anniversary in the city. (The pair arrived on Dec. 6, 2000.)

Addressing about 350 guests at the Friends of the National Zoo Black and White Gala, zoo director Lucy Spelman reported that the $21 million payment to China for the pandas' 10-year stay has been raised. Now she is hoping that gala "presents" and other fund-raising efforts will provide additional revenues to sustain her decadelong Capital Campaign to revitalize the zoo. She needs the money for new giant panda and sloth bear homes, and to renovate the Asian elephant exhibit.

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"We receive federal funding, but if we blaze the trail we want to blaze, we need private support, as well," she noted. "The pandas are a way to bring people closer to animals and that helps people care more about nature."

Doreen Gentzler, TV news anchor for WRC (Channel 4), was recruited for hosting duties, which included handing out awards for giant panda conservation efforts to U.S. Ambassador to Japan Howard H. Baker; Ruth Holmberg, former director of the New York Times Co. and the Associated Press Institute; and Stephen T. Hosmer, former president of the Friends of the National Zoo board. (Mr. Baker's daughter, Cissy Baker, accepted the award in his behalf.)

Dinner guests lined up to get their pictures taken with a "virtual" panda, courtesy of Fujifilm, which donated $7.8 million to their cause. Lisa Stevens, curator of primates and pandas at the zoo, said if we aren't careful, all pandas might become "virtual" one day: "They are a critically endangered species, and it will take a lot of work and collaboration to make sure they don't become extinct. There might only be 1,000 left in the world."

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