Saturday, May 14, 2016

Still Life with Robin: Our New National Mammal, Plus....?

by Peggy Robin

Photo by Thomas S Mann
I hope everyone heard last week’s news that the US now has an official “National Mammal.” It’s the American Bison -- and if you’re wondering why this little “local color” column is tackling a topic of nationwide significance, well, here’s the neighborhood hook: The current examplars of our national mammal are the two that live right in our own backyard, at the splendid American Bison exhibit at 3001 Connecticut Avenue NW – The National Zoo.  Take a look at Zora and Wilma, who arrived in 2014 in time to help celebrate the Zoo’s 125th anniversary: - scroll down the page to play the video, or better still, go to the Zoo to visit them in real life.

Happy as I am to see the bison designated our National Mammal, I have to wonder why our nation went so many years without one. We have had a national bird, the Bald Eagle, since 1782. That set me to wondering about how other countries choose to represent the nation’s soul in animal form -- and how many animals they need to do it. With the help of Wikipedia,, it was easy enough to find out – but here’s the shocking part: not only do lots of other countries have national animals, but at least ten have a greater number of national animals than we do and/or have National Animals in categories the US has neglected to fill. Take a look:

Antigua & Barbuda
National Mammal: Fallow Deer
National Bird: Frigate
National Sea Creature: Hawksbill Turtle

National Animal: Bengal Tiger
National Bird: Magpie Robin
National Fish: Ilish

National Animal: Takin (gnu-goat)
National Mythical Animal: Druk (dragon)

Costa Rica
National Mammal: White-tailed Deer
National Bird: Yigüirro
National Marine Mammal: Manatee

National Mammal: Bengal Tiger
National Heritage Animal: Indian Elephant
National Marine Mammal: Ganges River Dolphin
National Bird: Indian Peacock/Peahen
National Reptile: Indian Cobra

National Bird: Green Pheasant
National Fish: Carp

National Bird: White Wagtail
National Insect: Two-spotted Ladybird

Royal Animal: Lion
National Bird: White-throated Dipper
National Mammal: Fjord Horse

National Mammals: Wolf AND Lynx
National Mythical Bird: White Eagle

South Africa
National Mammal: Springbok
National Bird: Blue Crane
National Fish: Galjoen

United Kingdom
National Symbolic Animal: British Bulldog
Royal Animal: Barbary Lion
National Bird (England): Mute Swan
National Bird (Wales): Red Kite
Mythical Animal (Scotland): Unicorn
Mythical Animal (Wales) Welsh Dragon

With the US Congress in utter gridlock nearly all of the time, its recently-displayed ability to come together to name a national mammal appears as a small but hopeful sign of progress. How great it would be if that august deliberative body could do it again by rallying around the designation of American animals in other categories. And what better way to trumpet the greatness of our land (something they all seem to agree on) than to put forth more categories of greatness for our animals than any other country on earth. With that lofty goal in mind, I propose that the US designate another SIX National Animals – with the suggested candidates for the honor as follows:

National Marine Mammal: Orca (like the one in the movie “Free Willy”)
National Mythical Animal: Sasquatch, a/k/a Bigfoot
National Insect: Grasshopper (I hesitated between the unstoppable High Plains Grasshopper and the swarming Monarch Butterfly, until I remembered that the Monarchs are migrants from Mexico)
National Reptile: Rattlesnake (It’s on the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag)
National Fish: Big Mouth Bass – This one:
National Amphibian: American Bullfrog

We could also have a National Protozoon and a National Bacterium, but I could not come up with any iconically American candidates for those categories of animals. In point of fact, I’m not even sure that “animal” is the right term for single celled organisms – so let’s stick with the list above. Onward!


Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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