Just a few weeks after they settled into their new home at Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland, giant pandas Yang Guang and Tian Tian are already embroiled in controversy. BBC Magazine has named Tian Tian — or Sweetie as she is sometimes called — one of its female Faces of the Year 2011 — despite the fact that she's the only non-human on the list.
The list features what the BBC identifies as most headline-worthy women for each of the last 12 months. It includes U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in January, Libyan Eman al-Obeidi, who was gang-raped by members of Muammar Gaddafi's militia in February, and Pauline Pearce, the "Hackney Heroine," who publicly criticized London rioters in August.
Stella Creasy, a member of Parliament for the Labour party, told The Guardian that the list does not represent women well. "Whilst we all love a good panda story, in a year when Christine Lagarde became head of the IMF, or Helle Thorning-Schmidt became prime minister of Denmark or even the sad death of Amy Winehouse, it's frustrating the BBC couldn't think of 12 human female faces who have made the news this year."
Freelance journalist Bob Chaundy, who penned the list at the BBC's behest using their selections, acknowledged to The Guardian that Tian Tian was an odd choice, but said the list was not supposed to be as serious as others, such as Time magazine's Person of the Year.
Common Twitter criticisms under the #pandagate hashtag called the list "pandemonium" and "two black eyes" for the BBC.
The BBC said that the previous two Faces of the Year lists also contained non-humans, tweeting that cartoon star Peppa Pig was on last year's list and a 60 pound carp named Benson made the 2009 male list.
MSNBC's Maddow Blog, the blog of the Rachel Maddow Show, challenged readers to come up with a human to replace Tian Tian. Suggestions include U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton for her recent speech on gay rights in Geneva, and Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who was one of three female activists who won the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize and accepted the prize earlier this month.
Tian Tian and Yang Guang arrived in the U.K. on Dec. 4 via the Panda Express, a private FedEx jet that carried the two endangered animals from Bifengxia Panda Base in China. The 8-year-old breeding pair are on loan to Edinburgh Zoo for the next 10 years and are the first giant pandas to live in the U.K. in 17 years. They were unveiled to the public on Dec. 16. It is hoped that they will produce offspring while living in the U.K.