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July 24, 2005

A panda prescription for an ailing zoo

by Mary Donahue, Online Managing Features Editor
Between the continuous death of animals and a deteriorating physical appearance, the national treasure status of the Washington National Zoo seems to have been lost. But that glorious status can be restored by none other than a baby panda, roughly the size of a stick of butter. The baby panda cub's birth will not only help restore the positive image of the zoo, but the cub will also provide a much needed moral boost in light of recent animal deaths.

The National Zoo's problems began to surface back in 2002, beginning with the death of Ryma, a 17-year-old giraffe, and the starvation of two zebras. The animal deaths then continued throughout the following years, and included: a pygmy hippo, two red pandas, a cheetah, a lion, a lemur, another giraffe, a grey seal, an emu, a komodo dragon, an orangutan and a "partridge in a pear tree."

In addition to the deaths, the zoo's rat infestation also prompted criticism. The rats, which were often mistaken for prairie dogs, exhibited no fear of humans and scurried about, unchecked. The zoo tried to solve this problem by placing traps and poisons around the grounds, but two red pandas died when they accidentally ingested some of the poison.

Between the deaths and the rat infestation the zoo was slowly becoming the butt of a national joke. This panda, however, is a much-needed shot in the arm for the zoo. Even with the cub relatively hidden from the public eye, 3,625 visitors have already stood in line just to catch a glimpse of the new panda family.

Similar to the birth of the baby elephant Kumari, in 1993, which drew record numbers of visitors to the zoo, the panda cub's birth will do the same. People across the country will come to get a look at the zoo's new rare and endangered animal. The cub's adorable appearance won't hurt zoo's image, either.

This has been the first panda cub to be born in the National Zoo since 1989. The previous two pandas, Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing, produced five cubs, but none of their offspring survived longer than a few days. This cub, which has been alive for five days, is still not out of the clear, but it seems this cub will pull through. This cub, unlike its predecessors, is squealing happily and nursing. Mei Xiang is also more maternal than Ling Ling, holding and tending to the cub with affection.

Throngs of people will now flood into the zoo to see the panda cub. The new crowds will then inspire workers to have their zoo seen in the best light possible. This means meticulous care for the animals and cleanliness at all levels. Perhaps even Congress will be inspired to provide much need additional funding to the zoo to allow for the modernization and reorganization of the aging facility. In effect, what we will have is a positive "trickle-up" effect, all because of a tiny panda cub.



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  • somebody on July 24, 2005 at 11:30 PM
    this being the national zoo, that stick of butter seems poised to melt away.
  • Jojo on July 25, 2005 at 7:54 PM
    Go Mary! Congrats on your first published article!
  • moo on July 26, 2005 at 8:29 PM
    Cute, but one little baby panda means nothing when the giant pandas are losing acres and acres of habitat every day in China.

    But wait! In the U.S., bamboo is an evil invasive species, so all we have to do is plant it everywhere and wait for it to take over our backyards and then panda cubs will roam free! FREEE! bwahahahah it's perfect.

    oh and congrats Mary on your op piece!
  • voice or reason on July 28, 2005 at 10:52 AM
    Privatize the zoo.
  • Dumb Democrats= (View Email) on July 28, 2005 at 12:26 PM
    "The National Zoo's problems began to surface back in 2002, beginning with the death of Ryma, a 17-year-old giraffe, and the starvation of two zebras."

    Animals die. The zoo is becoming old. The animals are becoming old. The animals will die.
  • zoo goer on July 29, 2005 at 10:22 AM
    on average, giraffes in captivity live to be 25 years old and the zebras died of starvation. that isn't getting old.
  • zuh? on July 29, 2005 at 9:52 PM
    my opinion is people like pandas.

    wha?
  • Another one on July 30, 2005 at 10:46 AM
    http://www.wjla.com/news/stories/0705/247812.html

    A 14-year-old monkey died Friday morning at the National Zoo - the second

    A 14-year-old monkey died Friday morning at the National Zoo - the second death of a Sulawesi macaque in less than a year.
  • panda hater on August 22, 2005 at 11:09 AM
    i dont like pandas. but good article.
  • David W on September 26, 2005 at 9:47 PM
    This was really hilarious. I especially enjoyed this: "The zoo tried to solve this problem by placing traps and poisons around the grounds, but two red pandas died when they accidentally ingested some of the poison." There's something just so funny about total incompetence and failure that it gets me every time.
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