Ling-Ling, the solitary, roly-poly giant panda who drew millions to the National Zoo in Washington, died last December at the age of 23. But this morning, an adorable user-friendly statue made in her memory will be dedicated outside the zoo's panda house -- where Hsing-Hsing, her aging partner, still resides.
"Giant Panda" was created by sculptor Phillip Ratner for children to climb, hug and pose with. "This thing is going to be rubbed to death," Mr. Ratner says with zeal.
The aluminum sculpture depicting an enormously fat panda noshing on a tasty bamboo stick is the gift of Dennis Ratner, the sculptor's cousin and founder of the Hair Cuttery chain. The cost of creating and installing the sculpture was approximately $30,000.
The cousins, both Washington natives and loyal zoo visitors, were having breakfast together when they came up with the idea of memorializing Ling-Ling.
"We felt it would be a wonderful gift to the Washington community to do a replica of a panda and give it to the community," Dennis Ratner says.
Zoo staff members were happy to cooperate with the cousins. "It was a wonderful gesture on the part of the Ratners," says Daniel R. Studnicky, a zoo development officer.
Lisa Stevens, the zoo's assistant curator for mammals, reviewed Mr. Ratner's sculpture for anatomical authenticity.
For her, the statue is "yet another example of how these two
animals are able to endear themselves to people."
Ms. Stevens hopes that the statue will also call attention to the severe decline of giant pandas as well as "serve as a reminder of the urgency that faces all wildlife."