A recent battle playing out in my mind is the face off of the brand new eaglets at the National Arboretum and the baby panda Bei-Bei at the National Zoo. Let’s break down their adorable little profiles.
On March 18, 2016 at 8:27 am, the first of two bald eagle hatchlings arrived at the National Arboretum. Two days later, on March 20 at 3:00 am, the second of the eaglets poked through. Considering my birthday is March 19, I was obviously disappointed that both creatures could straddle it without happening to share it. Real cool little birdies.
Slight aside, these birds—currently dubbed DC2 and DC3—are something special to the DC area. Their parents, Mr. President and First Lady, are the first nesting bald eagle pair since 1947. Habitat destruction and degradation, illegal shooting, and the contamination of its food source (largely because of DDT) had decimated the eagle population since then. By 1963, bald eagles were near extinction, with only 487 nestling pairs left.
However, Mr. President and First Lady have been part of the resurgence of the bald eagle population. After DDT was outlawed, acid rain was dialed back through a successful NOx and SO2 cap-and-trade program, and other environmental reforms since then, the species has made a serious come back. By 2007, which appears to be the last year that data is available for, their population had surpassed 11,000.
So while these eaglets at the National Arboretum aren’t crucial additions to the species sustained return, they are symbolic of its success. Breeding pairs have returned to all sorts of previously inhabited sites, such as the Arboretum.
Rather adorably (more so than their ugly-duckling first impression), the American Eagle Foundation has asked the public to name them. I do agree that almost anything would be a step up from their generic names at the moment.
Best of all, though DC2 and DC3 are going to grow up to be the national symbol!! Hard to beat that. The bald eagle is both the national bird and the national animal—so it’s like a two-for-two-for-one.
The Baby Panda
Now, I’ve seen Bei-Bei, and yes, he’s pretty darn cute. Cuter than the ugle duckling, anyway. The last time I visited, he had scurried up into a tree so close to the railings that my 3-year old decided to have a full on conversation with him.
However, the National Zoo didn’t let the public name Bei-Bei after he was born on August 22, 2015. I guess the Smithsonian made up for it by having the first ladies of the US and China present the name at a ceremony a few days later. But they didn’t let us name his older sister, Bao Bao, which I’m not letting go on account of no international naming ceremony.
But who cares. Panda bears are so cute that they’ve essentially been adopted as the poster-child for conservation. The fact that they are “conservation reliant endangered species” probably helps their case, but I’m saying it’s mostly to do with their cuteness. They’re even the international symbol for the WWF.
And in case you were skeptical about calling them a true bear, I couldn’t help but lift this from the WikiWorld: “For many decades, the precise taxonomic classification of the giant panda was under debate because it shares characteristics with both bears and raccoons. However, molecular studies suggest the giant panda is a true bear and part of the family Ursidae, though it differentiated early in history from the main ursine stock. The giant panda’s closest extant relative is the spectacled bear of South America. The giant panda has been referred to as a living fossil.”
At some point, of course, this takes a political turn. I don’t want to compare national symbols of countries that don’t always see eye to eye, but it just so happens that the cutest animals in the DC-metro area happen to be the national symbols of two international powerhouses.
As you may have surmised, the giant panda is the national animal of China. And, while neither the US or China have national bears, I’m guessing this would be it (a step up from a national bird, some may say). You can take that for what it’s worth.
However, I’m going to have to say that—in their current state—the panda wins. Maybe it’s because he’s a few months older and has grown into the massive proboscis. Maybe it’s because pandas are the conservation kings and may need a boost from Viagra once in a while that makes me think we really do need to give them a helping hand. Or maybe it’s just those adorable black spots over their eyes.
Whatever it is, we can do another analysis down the road once the eaglets have turned into majestically soaring hunting (and yes, scavenging) machines swooping down to snag fish out of the water faster than a car while Bei-Bei is lazily sitting around eating a pre-determined combination of foods vaguely resembling his ancestral propensity for bamboo.
You can probably guess who I’d pin as the winner in that contest. But that’s still a few years off. In the meantime, these adorable little creatures have a lot of eating growing up to do before they become their true selves.