- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The District — one of only a few jurisdictions to boast an official dinosaur — now is looking for a living animal to be its official representative.

And most eyes are turning to the giant panda to fill the bill.

“The panda ought to be one of the strong possibilities,” says D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, who is running for mayor. The official animal “really should be what captures the imagination of the children and makes them feel good — and the panda does that.”

The fact that the bamboo-chewing panda is not native to the District — or to the United States, for that matter — apparently doesn’t matter.

Earlier this year, the council named the cherry as the city’s official fruit, even though the cherry blossoms that attract thousands of tourists each spring stem from a gift of 3,000 trees from the city of Tokyo in 1912.

D.C. officials want the District to be added to the 44 states that tout an official animal.

“Getting an official animal wouldn’t be real high up on my priority list, but it certainly wouldn’t be something I would mind addressing,” says council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat who is running for council chairman.

But council member Sharon Ambrose thinks the city’s official animal should be the bald eagle, which can be seen roosting along the Anacostia River.

“The panda should not be it because we should have an animal that is native,” says the Ward 6 Democrat, who isn’t seeking re-election. “We should have an animal that is an American.”

The District’s pandas — papa Tian Tian, mama Mei Xiang and baby Tai Shan — reside at the National Zoo, where they draw hundreds of cooing visitors each day. Tian Tian and Mei Xiang are on a 10-year loan from China, and Tai Shan, the first giant panda cub born at the zoo to survive more than a few months, will be sent to China when he is 2 years old.

Major zoos in San Diego, Atlanta and Memphis also display giant pandas, but California, Georgia and Tennessee have designated other mammals as their official animals. No state has named the panda as its official animal.

The giant panda is, however, the official animal of China, which charges U.S. zoos $2 million a year for the privilege of showing off the two-toned herbivores.

Council member Jim Graham, the Ward 1 Democrat whose jurisdiction includes the National Zoo, was unavailable for comment. But his spokesman, Alan Heyman, says Mr. Graham would be honored to have the District’s official animal living in his ward.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Anthony A. Williams says the mayor is open to all suggestions for an official animal.

No one has submitted a bill calling for an official D.C. animal, but Kevin Kiger, a spokesman for DC Vote, says such a move would mark a symbolic step toward D.C. statehood.

“I do think it’s important for D.C. to have that kind of identity,” Mr. Kiger says. “Having those kinds of official mottos, symbols and animals is an important part of any area’s identity. I think it’s things like that … that give the people who live here that feeling of inclusion.”

The bill designating the capitalsaurus as the District’s official dinosaur was passed in 1998.

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