Sweetie the Panda follows Peppa the Pig as one of the BBC’s more unusual female icons

The BBC has defended its decision to name a panda among the 12 women in its Faces of 2011 as “a light-hearted addition” to the list.

Tian Tian, who is also known as Sweetie, is one of the pair of pandas newly installed at Edinburgh Zoo.

The animal joins 11 other notable names on the BBC list including shot US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, singer Adele and Pauline Pearce – who was dubbed the heroine of Hackney after she was filmed standing up to rioters in north London.

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A BBC spokeswoman said: “Including Sweetie as one of the annual headline-makers was a light-hearted addition to the list, and this isn’t the first time it has featured a non-human. In 2009, Benson the Carp, a much-caught giant fish, was August’s entry on the male list, and last year Peppa the Pig was on the female list for April.”

The pandas were brought to Scotland from China in the hope that they will produce cubs.

The BBC came under fire last month after its shortlist for the Sports Personality of the Year award did not include any women.

MPs accused the corporation of “ignoring women’s achievements” by choosing an all-male shortlist.