- The Washington Times - Monday, May 20, 2002

Nothing brings visitors to a zoo like the arrival of a cute baby animal apart, perhaps, from lots and lots of great food. That's why the Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ) knew what they were doing when they chose Offspring Fling to call their Zoofari fund-raiser on Thursday. More than 100 area restaurants and about 20 wineries participated in the popular annual event, offering often-sumptuous samplings of their fares from booths crowded along the Zoo's meandering walkways.
The event this year raised about $375,000, providing revenue for the Zoo's much-needed regeneration. (First on the list is a new home for the sloth bears, whose habitat is from the 1890s). Donations poured in from nearly 3,000 supporters who showed up for the sold-out outdoor smorgasbord. The veteran Zoofari-goers among them knew to come with empty stomachs to allow room for tasty bites of grilled Thai quail from Ten Penh; buttery, gold-flecked caramels from Palena; and, inspiring the longest lines, red meat in various forms from The Palm, Morton's of Chicago and Smith & Wollensky.
Ralph Rosenberg, general manager of Red Sage, cheerfully served 1,000 duck sausages his restaurant prepared for the occasion, tirelessly squirting one after the other with mango mustard or tart-cherry barbecue sauce. Nearby, Terence Ryan, the owner of Ristorante Terrazza, manned his booth in a tiger costume, holding a giant plastic pacifier in his paw. "I dress up every year for whatever the theme is," he mumbled through his furry mask. "A pacifier was all I could think of."
Most restaurateurs didn't use funny costumes to lure people to their tables. As always, there were guests who darted from booth to booth for a heart-clogging number of calorie-packed delicacies. But, hey, how often to you get to taste cuisine from Citronelle, Vidalia, Bis, and Kinkead's, all lined up within a few feet of each other?.
Molly Keefe, who was pouring wine for Coppola vineyards, seemed frustrated that "Some people don't even know what they're drinking; they just want a drink" but conceded that "you have to drink a lot to find out what you like. We've had a lot come back for seconds."
There was plenty of time for the other attractions as well, of course. Only the most gluttonous visitors could have resisted stopping by to coo at Kandula, the hairy-headed baby-boy elephant born in November now an adorable 600 pounds. He was a diverting presence behind zoo director Lucy Spelman, who spoke to supporters at a small VIP reception held between the panda yard and the large mammal house. As she explained that the Offspring Fling is meant to celebrate the Zoo "growing younger," Kandula cavorted on cue, spraying a shower of dirt over his head.
Kandula is a product of artificial insemination, but the other famous offspring Jana, a 4-month-old giraffe; Berani, a Sumatran tiger; and Kojo, a gorilla were conceived the old-fashioned way.
"Four charismatic animals like this," FONZ executive director Clinton Fields said with pride, "that's really a rare experience."
To continue the baby boom, Mr. Fields and Ms. Spelman are hoping the beloved giant pandas will create the most charismatic offspring of all next May, when the female has her brief annual mating window again. Mei Xiang and Tian Tian had their notorious semi-passionate but unproductive encounter during that window a few weeks ago. The male panda, Tian Tian (which, maybe fittingly, means "more and more" in Chinese), was a bit too aggressive for the demure Mei Xiang (which means "beautiful fragrance").
Then Mei Xiang apparently had a sudden change of heart. But when she approached Tian Tian with some ardor, he'd lost interest.
"It was a sight to see," said Mr. Fields, one of the few who observed the tense courtship.


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