Saturday, September 17, 2016

Still Life with Robin: New Parents in the Neighborhood

Photo by National Zoo
by Peggy Robin

Congratulations to new parents who had a son on Monday, September 12 – a little cutie-pie born in Woodley Park. You know I’m talking about a baby organgutan, right? Here’s the announcement from the National Zoo on behalf of the Batang (the mom) and Kyle (the dad), both nineteen years old:

The Zoo reports the baby is yet unnamed, which brings me to a subject that has been nagging at me for nearly a full year, and that is the naming of its previous most-celebrated newborn, the panda cub, Bei Bei -- something I still think the Zoo handled very badly. There used to be a set system in place for the naming of the cubs: the Zoo waited out the first hundred days (in keeping with Chinese tradition) before announcing the baby’s name. In the intervening time, the Chinese government, which owns the pandas (they are merely here on loan) would come up with a handful of acceptable names, and the Zoo would hold an online popularity contest for the public. After the voters had picked their favorite, the panda would be given its name.

Well, that wasn't what happened with Bei Bei,. Just one year ago from Monday (September 25 is the first anniversary of the naming), the Chinese government unexpectedly put the kibosh on even this limited form of popular vote, and on the 35th day after the birth, unilaterally decreed that the baby would be called Bei Bei. It’s not that it’s a worse name than Bao Bao (the top vote-getter for the previous panda cub, born two years earlier), but that they broke the rules. This time we didn't even get to hear the choices! On top of that, they quashed a grass-roots naming-rights insurgency being led by Washington Post columnist John Kelly, who had started his own campaign for a write-in choice in the poll he assumed would be set up – and the name he wanted for the baby was Elvis. (See

It would have been such a great thing if that name had won! I thought so at the time, and I have never let go of the notion. And here we are again, with a very adorable little Zoo baby in our midst…unnamed as of yet. It wiggles and rocks and rolls more like the King than any roly-poly panda cub could hope to do. (Might have something to do with being a fellow primate.)

So let’s do it – let’s name this baby Elvis! Elvis Orangutan – it has a ring to it!  If you’re on board, you can tweet to the National Zoo at @NationalZoo.

P.S. There was no email address listed on the Zoo’s “Contact Us” page at Does that tell you something about how much they want to hear from us?

Still Life With Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays. Peggy tweets @StillLifewRobin


  1. The 100-day waiting period was short circuited because of the official visit of the First Couple of China.
    Since Mrs. Xi was in town, she and Michelle Obama had a joint naming ceremony. Here's the youtube:

  2. I get that your purpose with this was to write a light and witty weekend column. However, Bornean orangutans were recently re-classified by ICUN from Endangered to Highly Endangered. Sumatran orangutans have been classified as Highly Endangered for some time. Highly Endangered is the final classification before Extinction. My hope/expectation is that the Zoo will choose a culturally appropriate name for this new baby, one that will highlight the tremendous pressures being brought to bear on our great ape cousins in Indonesia, due to palm oil plantations, fire, logging, other deforestation, hunting, etc.

    If listserv members want to do something to help, it's easy to start at home. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has developed and made available for download their free app called "Palm Oil." You can use this to check out food and personal care products before purchasing to ensure that they are "orangutan-friendly" (i.e. use sustainably produced palm oil.) Vote with your dollars! The app can also guide you in the direction of further actions you can take to help in this crucial struggle to save forests (and all the creatures that depend on them for life.)

    And Congratulations to Batang and Kyle!

  3. Lost again! No popular vote, just a simple declaration by the Zoo that the baby would be named "Redd"...because the organgutan is the "red ape". So lame, it's not even spelled right. At least they did put out a video: